Your mentor wants an experiment done this week, but you do not have the time to do it because of upcoming exams. What should you do
Discuss your concerns with your mentor and be honest about the need for more time to study. Offer to spend more time on your project once your exams are over. At one point your mentor was an undergraduate in your shoes, they might surprise you with how understanding they can be!
You have been working in a research group for a couple of months and have found to be uninterested in your research project. You are considering switching projects or research groups entirely, what should you do?
If you are uninterested in your research project after several months and cannot see yourself continuing in the research group’s research field, it is absolutely okay to switch projects or research groups entirely. If you still wish to continue in the same research group, ask to meet with your mentor and kindly voice your disinterest in your current research project. Inquire about other projects in the research group you could assist with and see if your mentor would be okay with you switching research focuses. If you are unable to switch research projects or do not feel interested in any of the research group’s projects, consider leaving the research group and finding a research position in another. This decision can seem very daunting, but if you feel that your time and energy could be better spent somewhere else, exploring other options is completely fine.
Your mentor asks you to write an abstract for an upcoming conference. You’ve been in the research group for several months now, but still do not understand the project very well. You are worried that if you attempt to write the abstract, your mentor will find out how little you understand. What do you do?
Set up a meeting with your mentor and discuss your concerns on composing an abstract. Come prepared with an outline containing what you currently know about the research project to demonstrate where your knowledge ends. Ask if they have any scientific literature they would recommend that could make you better understand the fundamentals of the research project. Finally, ask if they would be willing to edit your abstract drafts and set up future meetings to do so.
Your friend has been working in their research group for almost a semester, but still has not been given a research project. They feel that they are ready to do some of their own research, but instead are starting to feel like this research opportunity is a waste of their and their mentor’s time. What would you advise your friend to do?
Advise your friend to set up a meeting with their mentor and express their interest in pursuing their own research project and inquire about what criteria they may need to meet to begin their own. Their mentor might have an idea in mind already or might see a research project that can branch off their own. Before the meeting, advise your friend to also consider what project they are looking for in general and how it would fit into the context of the lab they work in.
A student is extremely excited to have found a research position on campus. They arrived full of energy the first day and learned that they were “assigned” to a graduate student mentor by the PI of the research group, against the graduate student’s wishes to serve as a mentor. The graduate student acts distant, disinterested, and visibly annoyed every time the student comes to lab. What should the student do?
Have a conversation with the grad student early on to see what they are willing to help with and what they aren’t, and how they would like to communicate, troubleshoot, etc. This will make it easier to think about what other sources of support the student will need if the grad student is unwilling to provide them. Also, see if there are others in the lab or neighboring labs or other resources that they can seek out to support their learning and act as additional mentors. You may be surprised where you find mentors in your life.
A classmate has an extremely busy semester juggling four courses (many with lab components), a part-time job, participation in two student organizations, and undergraduate research. They are devoting 10 hours per week to research and thought that this was a fair commitment. During their last meeting with their research mentor, however, the mentor was upset that they had not made more progress on their project. In fact, the mentor mentioned that they would not be able to write them a strong letter of recommendation for graduate school unless they started acting “more like a graduate student.” What should this classmate do?
First, reassure your classmate that they are doing the best they can do and give them some words of affirmation. Your classmate is currently an undergraduate student researcher, so the expectation to be “more like a graduate student” is unrealistic. If their mentor’s expectations are not aligning with their work availability, advise them to set up a meeting with their mentor and re-discuss their mentor-mentee expectations. Your classmate providing their mentor with their schedule may help the mentor realize how busy they are. Finally, advise the classmate to discuss their passion for research and graduate school with their mentor and see what can be done to receive a strong letter of recommendation.
You have a big presentation coming up at a conference. You are struggling to prepare for the presentation and have reached out to your mentor multiple times for feedback. Your mentor is currently busy with their own presentation and have been slow to get back to you or unresponsive, what should you do?
Email a graduate student or other individual in the lab and ask if they could give you feedback on a practice run of your presentation. Copy your mentor on the email so they are aware of the practice presentation. Reach out to your mentor and give them a schedule of your availability in the next coming weeks. This will make it much easier for them to schedule a time to give you feedback on your presentation.
You made an error in an experiment today and felt that your mentor was disappointed in you. You are hoping for a great letter of recommendation from your mentor, as you are applying for a scholarship coming up and are now worried this failed experiment will jeopardize the quality of the letter. What should you do?
Making an error during an experiment is a part of the research learning process, so don’t be too hard on yourself! Reach out to your mentor and voice your disappointment in the failed experiment. Inquire what the next steps for the project should be and if you could re-do the experiment with their supervision. Take some steps to minimize the chance of another error, such as updating the protocol or reading more in-depth about how this experiment fits into the research project. Your mentor has most likely had their fair share of failed experiments and will understand your willingness to perform the experiment again.