Mentoring graduate students: choose one thing

IMG_1106Yesterday I popped into my friend Liz Haswell’s office to get a copy of her recent tenure talk on a flash drive. We could have Dropboxed it, but this way we got to chat a little. I asked her how she handled the  recent request from our umbrella graduate program, DBBS, for student evaluations. I’m afraid I was rather perfunctory with mine since I prefer to do the serious planning and retrospection with students in January when we have time in front of us.

Liz had a great idea. She picks just one thing and asks the students to work on improving that one thing. It might be their next lab meeting presentation. It might be a particular technique, or piece of writing. It could be reviewing the literature in one area. She chooses one manageable goal with them and talks about that. She makes it clear that they need to surpass only themselves. Even a genius can push herself to do better by comparing herself to herself, not to others.

How much more feasible it is to have one goal, not many.  Do all the things you are doing as best you can, but choose this one thing to really take to the next level. I really liked that idea. It reminded me of how much we can learn from our colleagues if only we take the time to chat with open ears.

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About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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