Monday, August 1, 2011

A Lesson in Patience

I seem to be capable of doing only two of the three following activities at a time: Being productive at work, spending time with my family, blogging. Sorry for the long unannounced absence, but it was for good reasons.

I have two undergraduate researchers this summer. One I've been very happy with her performance, both in terms of results, and in terms of the initiative she shown. The other disappointed me in both these areas at first. To be fair, she's had a hard summer. She made me aware of her issues at the beginning of the summer session. I have no pretension about where my priority as a summer job should be in her life, so I told her that it was okay for her to take care of the unforeseeable events that had come up in her life.

These last couple weeks I've had to revise my opinion of her. Her research has turned a corner, and she is producing proto-results! More importantly, she is seeking me out and asking for time to meet and discuss, rather than waiting for me to chase her down to see what she's done.

I think it was this lack of motivation that bothered me the most about her performance. I understood that she didn't have a lot of time to devote to this project, but for her to get stuck and wait 5 days for me to return to town, rather than sending me an e-mail disturbed me. The fact that she is getting results now is a sign of her intelligence (which never was being tested). The fact that she hasn't been good about asking me questions is a sign of poor research skills. I am hoping that can be (and is being) taught over the course of her summer research projects. If so, that skill will give her an edge in her graduate studies, at least as much as any mastery of anything learned in a classroom or lab will.

But the main point of this post is to point out that it is worth, in the absence of other compounding data, having faith in students who initially under perform. Sometimes they turn around.

There are only a few weeks left in this summer session. I'm finding myself, unsurprisingly, wishing it was a little longer so that my first student can clean up tie up all the loose ends she needs to, and my second student can have the chance to actually find something new.

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