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Student mentoring

Janel Huffman, Elizabeth Dlugosz, Stephen Selego and Adam Reese, researchers and field assistants

For me, mentoring is firstly about fostering student’s interests in the research questions. When a question is important to students, the quality of the results they produce can be astounding. Some concrete ways that I have used to motivate students in the past include connecting students to applied problems that managers need answers to. In my experience, undergraduates are often somewhat daunted at the beginning of a research project because they have not yet experienced how to step through the process. At the undergraduate level, considerable guidance is still necessary, as well as an openness to any level of question. I find it most helpful to meet very frequently with students initially, both to help them understand the biology of the system and to reassure them that they are progressing. It also helps to take time initially to get to know the students background, both in terms of academics and work experiences. This allows me to help them synthesize knowledge and experiences they already have. Another aspect that I find important is providing opportunities for students to interact and support each other, which I personally found to be helpful in my own research. I aim to have an active lab where there are frequent opportunities for students to work together. Research mentoring also gives me the best opportunity to work with students on scientific process skills such as hypothesis generation and data collection, analysis and interpretation.  Finally, my strong interest in students as individuals and in their successes is also a key part of good mentoring.