ITAL 398: Building towards a research paper

Written by Dr. Marisa Escolar, Assistant Professor in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures

Three-quarters of the way through the semester, as my Graduate Research Consultant Giuliano Migliori and I eagerly await the first rough drafts from our students, I want to share with you all the way we have structured the research trajectory. The semester began with a fairly dense historiographical essay (our topic is the ‘Liberation’ of Italy by the Allies in WWII). Students met in groups and, using that essay as the basis, decided on a practice research “topic”: questions were intentionally broad, like “How did fascism rise in Italy?” or “How were Americans perceived by Italians?” By the next class, they had to bring in a physical book as well as an electronic resource and explain how that would help them answer the question. During that class we discussed how to “vet” a source and evaluate precisely what kind of source it was, paying attention to the index, table of contents, year of publication, etc., before even getting to the prose. In the students’ reflection diary, they commented that they appreciated being given class time to do this kind of work.

Soon after, I gave a “research presentation” where I introduced various methodologies, practical tips for searching, and, above all, emphasized the importance of formulating a research question.

The next step involved students putting together an abstract that suggested not just a topic but a question, as well as a short annotated bibliography. Here, they received written and in-person feedback from both Giuliano and myself. I also asked for a reflection diary, where students expressed frustration in being asked to formulate a question in advance and some anxieties about the ability to find appropriate sources (and having the time to read them!).

The most difficult jump so far has been between this initial abstract and the successive step, in which I asked them to read at least one primary source on their own and write a critical evaluation of it, along with an updated bibliography. Here, several students recognized they were headed in a new direction, so in further meetings we helped them reorganize their work plan. In order to make the feedback more concrete, I improvised a peer-editing session in which I asked groups of 3 to evaluate each other’s summaries, particularly to help their peers press themselves towards understanding whether they had found an original approach to the material.

Before the first drafts came in, we collectively “peer-edited” a paper of a former student, both to examine an excellent paper and to establish expectations for the editing process. This discussion generated a number of useful critiques and questions, especially about the most effective use of direct quotations. Next, using a set of guidelines I’ve give them, they will peer-edit their drafts before handing in a second draft for a grade—and, ultimately, the final paper and research presentation. My main priorities in this last part of the class are to push students towards an argumentative question and to help them find a voice from the midst of all the sources they have so painstakingly retrieved, vetted and digested. It is my hope that the scaffolding we provided will make this possible.

Undergraduate Research: Memory, Momuments, and Memorials

Written by Kevin Chovanec, GRC and graduate student in the Department of English and Comparative Literature

This fall — and continuing into the spring — a few Writing Program Instructors and Graduate Research Consultants for ENGL105 courses have begun working with various campus organizations to develop courses focused on the complex history of the monuments and memorials on UNC’s campus. We’ve partnered with the Visitors’ Center and received support and direction from APPLES, the MRC, Wilson Library, and even the UNC Campus Historian. While fitting the normal ENGL 105 model, the class includes two units that focus on university history. Students in the class have therefore engaged with our past and interrogated what it means to be part of this university, and we hope that their projects (eventually) might supplement the growing collection of tours, articles, and information available about the monuments. A slight twist is that our students projects are narratives; as Missy Julian-Fox, the director of the VC recommended, our students have focused on telling stories about our past.

As with many of these projects, I imagine, we have encountered a few challenges. First-years often have enough trouble simply adapting to college writing; the rather ambitious research project – producing, we hoped, material that could actually be used — demanded from them a quality of work rarely required. They needed to write like professionals — and of course, at this point in their careers, not all students have that skill. Still, failing to produce publishable work can itself, I think, be a useful experience; students develop a sense of what professional writing should look like, and their ability to recognize the problems in their work demonstrates their potential as writers.

Students have used their research to tell the stories behind the monuments — stories of why and how they were built; of the controversy they have stirred; and of the groups and individuals honored. In the class focused on the Student Body Monument, for example, students have put together an account of the famous night of vandalism, when the statue had to be moved to a less conspicuous position; but they have also sought to uncover the true diversity of the “student body” that the stereotyped statues have — at least, according to some — failed to represent. One group developed an exhibit on the first female students to attend Carolina, including the autobiography of Sallie Walker Stockard, the first female student to graduate from UNC, and a manuscript diary of the first African-American woman enrolled at the university, Karen L. Parker.

A colleague and former GRC described the GRC experience as all the good parts of teaching with none of the bad. (By the bad parts, of course, he meant grading.) It has been exciting to talk about students’ work with them in groups, to hear their archival finds and to recommend possible directions for their projects. Despite certain challenges, many students have done impressive research, and I have enjoyed working with them to better understand the long, complex, sometimes ignoble but always fascinating, history of UNC.

 

 

The Art Question: Seeking Interdisciplinarity with the Ackland Art Museum

Written by Dr. Jan Koelb, Department of English and Comparative Literature, and Katherine Calvin, GRC and graduate student in the Department of Art

As the Graduate Research Consultant for Dr. Jan Koelb’s CMPL 260 course “Landscape: Reimagining the Natural World,” I have been working with students over the past few weeks as they begin to build the frameworks for their final projects, which pivot around a research question on some aspect of the intersections among nature, art, and society. Throughout the semester, we as a class have been using the Ackland Art Museum and its collection as a laboratory of sorts to investigate representations of landscape in Western art to accompany the literary texts related to landscape that the students have read for class, such as Virgil’s Eclogues, Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Romantic poetry by Wordsworth and Coleridge. With the continued support of Dr. Carolyn Allmendinger and Caroline Culbert at the Ackland, our class has been able to use one of the smaller study bays in the museum for the entire semester, and Dr. Koelb (using input from the students and myself) has curated three separate installations that will go up over the course of the semester. I have found this particular aspect of the course to be incredibly helpful for the students, as they can study the works in intricate detail, heightening their visual literacy as well as their textual analysis skills.

As a graduate student in Art History, working with a comparative literature course has been an interesting experience for me, as it has pushed me to reframe the way in which I introduce and explain art historical concepts and techniques to a widely diverse group of students. At this point in the semester, I have completed one set of tutorials, which are an hour-long meeting with a group of four students, and have begun the second tutorial meetings. I hold the tutorials in the class’ study bay at the Ackland, so if a student is unsure about his or her argument, we can look closely at the work of art in question in that moment and talk through the issues as a group. It has been fascinating to see the elements in these works that interest students. We have individuals working on everything from the re-contextualization of an Egyptian sphinx in modern London as photographed by Coburn in 1908 to the representation of nature as wondrous and its conflation with mythology in relation to Dürer’s Das Meerwunder (The Sea Monster) from 1498.Art for Lunch tweet 1

Because the course encourages students to engage a variety sources across traditional disciplinary boundaries, however, it has often been challenging to help students narrow their research focus to make their project tenable in a single semester. Some of their proposals challenge my own master’s thesis in breadth! My strategy for this issue, so far, has been to encourage students to continually return to the work of art that they are focusing on primarily and to ask them to think carefully and critically about the details visible in the art. What do they see that strikes them? What can be used as evidence for their argument? And, conversely, what do they not see, and how can this help or hinder their project’s thesis? In this second research tutorial, we are talking about evidence quite a bit, particularly the kind of evidence students think they need to find in order to complete their first drafts. Even in a room surrounded by art, I have continually reminded them to not forget about the art as evidence, as example, and, often, even as contradiction, as they bring together other historical and literary scholarship. I look forward to the next rounds of GRC tutorials as I am excited to see first drafts of these synthesizing projects.

Katherine Calvin
10-15-2014

Art for Lunch tweet 2“Where will your curiosity lead you?” Our twenty landscape students have taken that motto to heart and are moving in twenty exciting directions with their research. Katherine’s tutorials make the critical difference between, as one student puts it, “the blind leading the blind” and making solid progress in a short time. The students’ feedback speaks for itself: “the concept of the tutorials with Katherine is excellent” . . . “very helpful, really allows ideas to form” . . . “great to be able to get help from Katherine in a small group setting” . . . “she’s knowledgeable and has great insights about art and how to write about art”. . . “a good balance of positive feedback and constructive criticism”. . . And as one frank student remarks: “It has been nice being forced to create a draft to present to her before submitting a final copy because normally I would probably end up waiting until the last minute to just create one potentially sloppy final draft.”

Jan Koelb
11-3-2014

Undergraduate Research in POLI 130: Introduction to Comparative Politics

Written by Paula Mukherjee (Instructor) and Kevin Brondum (GRC), Department of Political Science

From Paula:

My “Introduction to Comparative Politics” class (POLI 130) is a course about democracy. I start off the course by looking at theories and typologies of regime type: democracies, dictatorships, and hybrid democracies and illiberal democracies that display characteristics of both democracies and dictatorships. I then move to an analysis of democratic transitions in the developing world. When, how, and why do dictatorships transition to democracies? We discuss how transitions are a time of great uncertainty and flux. Those in power may find themselves as outsiders in the new regime, while those previously blocked from power could end up as leaders of a new democracy.

I follow this theoretical discussion with two case studies. The first is a study of Argentina’s brutal military dictatorship and the installation of democracy in the early 80s. The second case study is of South Africa’s transition from apartheid to multiparty and multiethnic democracy in the early 90s. Along the way, I take a detailed look at the human rights abuses perpetrated by both regimes and the efforts at transitional justice taken up by the young democracies.

The class is currently in the fourth unit of the course, which focuses on democratic institutions. We’ve looked at how some democracies are designed to give the majority in society the right to make decisions for the rest of society (“majoritarian democracy”), while others are designed to encourage consensus and minority buy-in (“consensus democracy”). Here, I’ve used the case of the UK to illustrate how a classically majoritarian democracy has adopted several characteristics of consensus democracy in recent years.

Kevin Brondum, the GRC for this course, has been a great help for the research component of this course. Each of the students has selected a “partly-free” country from anywhere in the world that they will use for the whole research project. They must classify the regime as democratic or authoritarian and, identify current challenges to democracy (first paper), and design an appropriate democratic regime (second paper). The centerpiece of the project is a series of group presentations at the end of the semester. I have organized the students into groups by world region (Africa, Latin America, etc.) and their task will be to compare and contrast their cases and explain what lessons can be learned from their efforts at democratic design across the region. I’m excited to see the projects unfold!

From Kevin:

At this stage in the semester, students are completing and handing in their first papers. Paula and I shared the work of advising them as they wrote. The assignment for the first paper was to classify a country of the student’s choosing as authoritarian or democratic, majoritarian or consensual. Comparative Politics is concerned with domestic politics in all countries of the world, and students have chosen to write about countries on almost every continent. Of course, Paula and I aren’t experts on the politics of every country in every world region. Paula specializes in Subsaharan Africa, I specialize in Eurasia, and we have complementary background knowledge about different countries in the Americas. During the research process for this paper, Paula and I have shared the work of advising students on their research based on these specialties. If a student asked me for advice in writing a paper about Zambia or Chile, for example, I would help the student to the best of my ability but encourage her to talk to Paula as well.

To write this paper, the students have to identify problems preventing the establishment of a full, functioning liberal democracy in their chosen country. When they write about democracy, what students usually find most challenging is to assess whether the institutions that a country establishes on paper are actually working in practice. Many have difficulty understanding why legal provisions for elections, parties, and a system of checks and balances are not enough to guarantee a strong and lasting democracy. The most important task for Paula and me, therefore, has been to suggest sources that are more likely to show how open political participation, competition, and the recognition of civil liberties are failing in their countries despite constitutional guarantees. We usually start by referring them to reports by organizations whose goal is to assess democratic practices or observance of human rights, like Freedom House, Polity, or Human Rights Watch. However, to discourage them from simply regurgitating these organizations’ conclusions, we tell them to incorporate information from recent news, and require them to evaluate the quality of democracy in their country with reference to Arend Lijphart’s Patterns of Democracy and other theoretical readings from the syllabus.

Ultimately, as students start preparing their presentations in groups, our goal is to have them compare countries, synthesizing their knowledge with other students’ and applying the theories they have learned more broadly.

Autoethnography and Undergraduate Research

Written by Sarah Singer, GRC and graduate student in the Department of English and Comparative Literature

Here is the second installment of Sarah’s blogging about  Dr. Jane Danielewicz’s ENGL55H: Reading and Writing Women’s Lives course. For the first blog post, see here. Thanks to Sarah for providing these continuing reflections about the progress of the course and her experience with it.

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The students read Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted to learn about the genre of autoethnography. This text served as a guide; it is one of many examples that they might use as a model as they write their own autoethnographies. Dr. Danielewicz reminded the class that autoethnography is a genre of autobiography that, as Francoise Lionnet argues, “opens up a space of resistance between the individual (auto-) and the collective (ethno-) where the writing  (graphy) of singularity cannot be foreclosed” (391). After students completed the opening writing exercise, Dr. Danielewicz asked them to break off into small group discussions to ensure that everyone would have a chance to share their ideas about Kaysen’s story. As usual, wearing my GRC hat, I walked around and listened to snippets of conversations.

One group focused on senses and visceral reactions. Based on close textual scrutiny, they thought they really knew that it felt like, looked like, and smelled like to have been in Kaysen’s place: a 1960s Boston hospital where many great artists and thinkers were diagnosed and treated for mental illness. These students were particularly struck by the sight of the hospital that Kaysen depicts – the patients on the left side of the halls, the nurses on the right – and the smells of patients in isolation, covered in their own excrement. I considered throwing myself into the conversation, as usual, but I was too impressed by the maturity that they brought to the discussion to say much of anything.

As the students considered the themes and perspectives that are presented in the memoir, they grappled with a variety of binaries: “crazy”/not “crazy,” ill/not ill, man/woman, nurse/patient, and more. A student pointed out that Kaysen is an unreliable narrator, and one group debated about which character in the memoir is the most “normal.” As a class, the students considered how Kaysen is “technically crazy,” yet simultaneously “somehow sane,” which makes her both an outsider and insider in her various communities – the hospital, Cambridge (MA), her parents’ home, her home with her husband, etc. I wanted to bring up the multivocality of the text, which is peppered with psychiatrists’ notes and other records and further complicates the insider/outsider deliberation. But I waited, knowing that this will be addressed next class.

Thus, the students used Kaysen’s story to think through binaries present in their own autoethnographies. As they peer-edited their working drafts near the end of class, the students seemed to take a step back. Kaysen prompts us to wonder if we, too, would be considered unreliable narrators and if outside readers would think our experiences were normal. She negotiates intellectual and physical border crossings that inform her identity and prose. One student, who was writing about her experience as an African American woman with happily married parents, chose not to think about outside audiences in this writing stage. She planned to think about her writerly authority in future drafts. Another student was writing about how growing up as an only child molded her perspective. She worried that some of Kaysen’s ill behaviors were too familiar. As a GRC, I think about encouraging the students to think about their audiences and be critical of their narrative arcs. As a researcher, I think about how an intersectional approach and early black feminist theory might be useful starting places for some students. As a writer, I think about the fun of playing with binaries and how they can help frame and balance a text. As a human, I think about how much I want to believe Kaysen’s version of her truth and that it will be hard for me to be critical of any of the student’s truths. But above all, I realize that I’m lucky that I get to play so many (opposing?) roles. ​

Works Cited:

Kaysen, Susanna. Girl, Interrupted. New York: Random H, 1993. eBooks file.

Lionnet, Francoise. “Autoethnography: The an-archaic style of dust tracks on a road.” Reading Black, Reading Feminist: A Critical Anthology. Ed. Henry Louis Gates. New York: Meridian, 1990. 382-413. Print

World War I and Undergraduate Research

Written by John McGowan, Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature

My goals for my first year seminar on World War I (ENGL 54.002 The War to End All Wars? The First World War and the Modern World) are very simply stated–and rather daunting to achieve. I want my students to learn about the War (of course), with a special focus on how it was experienced and processed on the individual level. But I have two further goals: to introduce my students to research methods in the humanities and to give them the sense that they are participating in a wider conversation, not something that just happens in a classroom. I am trying to keep the introduction to research methods fairly simple. After all, my students are in their first semester in college. Basically, they are going to learn how to use the library: how to search for and find a book; how to distinguish between primary and secondary documents; how to begin to evaluate the reliability of various sources; and how to use electronic databases. This work will culminate in an annotated bibliography on a particular topic–and, finally, an in-class presentation on their research, which will also form the basis of a 12-15 page paper. My GRC, Katie Walker, will join me in helping students navigate these waters. To give them the sense of the wider conversation, my students will attend six of the events that are part of the campus-wide World War I Centenary Project. I hope they will get some idea of the way scholars, artists, and others continue to think about World War I and engage with its multiple legacies. I’ll return to this blog in December and let you know whether I think the course met these goals.

Life Writing, Gender, and Undergraduate Research

Written by Sarah Singer, GRC and graduate student in the Department of English and Comparative Literature

Although it is only the third week of the semester, students in Dr. Jane Danielewicz’s ENGL55H: Reading and Writing Women’s Lives are already drafting autobiographies. In this unit, students are debating if gender makes a difference in the writing and reading of autobiography and considering the ways in which cultural patterns of women’s lives are reflected by the autobiographical form. Students are researching autobiography by both reading autobiographies and corresponding theory texts by bell hooks, Adrienne Rich, Joan Scott, and others. As the Graduate Research Consultant, I function as an informal coordinator during this early part of the semester, floating in and out of small group discussions. Much to my surprise, I find that I listen more than I talk. This week, the students laughed at the absurdity of bad dates as they considered Susan Allen Toth’s “Going to the Movies.” At one point, I interjected in a group’s conversation and asked the students to take note of the form of the short autobiography. Each section is written using the same pattern to talk about a different man with whom the author goes to the movies, and in the last section the author discusses going to the movies by herself. I felt like this was an important element to consider because the students need to purposefully select forms and styles of organization in their own autobiographies. But I found that the group was steps ahead of me. They had already considered how the form of an autobiography can affect its meaning and were already experimenting with it in their own writing. I am humbled, knowing that they already see the evidence of their own experiences as truth and that they are working so hard to portray their truths accurately. I am excited to continue my work as a member of their writing and research community, especially as they finish their autobiographies and trouble the boundaries of life writing as they move into ethnography. ​

In the Field: Undergraduate Research in Marine Sciences

Written by GRC Amy Pflaumer, GRC and graduate student in the Department of Marine Sciences

I’ve had the privilege to serve as a Maymester Graduate Research Consultant for Marc Alperin’s MASC/ENTS 220 NC Estuaries: Environmental Processes and Problems for the past 2 years. This course is particularly well-suited to the GRC program due to its substantial off-campus field component. Following a few weeks of classroom instruction in Chapel Hill, the students spend a week at UNC’s Institute of Marine Sciences (IMS) in Morehead City. There, they have the unique opportunity to apply their newfound knowledge of estuary processes during a day-long sampling trip down the Neuse River Estuary, followed by sample analysis in the laboratory and preparation of a final presentation. As a graduate student based in Morehead City, I’m able to aid the students in working with the field and lab equipment necessary to collect and process water samples. Equally important, I have the opportunity to introduce students to my graduate research, as well as my experiences in the graduate program at the Institute of Marine Sciences.

I really enjoy serving as a GRC. The week the Maymester students spend at the coast flies by in a blur of activity. For that week, we spend all day every day together, so I have the chance to talk to the students 1-on-1 and really get to know them. It’s impressive to see the transformation students undergo over the course of a single week, from offering hesitant answers to Dr. Alperin’s questions on day 1 to confidently delivering a highly detailed presentation to the Neuse River Estuary experts at IMS on their final day. Students work hard, gain some great hands-on experience, soak up an almost unbelievable quantity of information, and have a great time; I’m happy to be a part of it as the GRC.

Undergraduate Research and the Mentoring Process

Written by Dr. Donna Bickford, Associate Director in the Office for Undergraduate Research

This is a timely moment to be thinking about mentoring. The Chronicle of Higher Education just published Beth McMurtrie’s piece on the importance of mentoring junior faculty. In June, Inside Higher Ed’s Colleen Flaherty wrote about the increasing insistence of funding agencies that the grants they fund include robust mentoring plans. And, UNC’s own Katie Walker notes the dearth of information for and attention to graduate and professional students who are mentoring undergraduates. At OUR, of course, we are particularly interested in encouraging effective and impactful mentoring of undergraduates by all the other members of our research community with whom they interact.

One of the sessions I attended at the recent Council on Undergraduate Education (CUR) conference was on Mentor Training, Engagement and Evaluation. My colleague in the URPD Division, Linda Blockus from the University of Missouri-Columbia, along with Jessica Brown from California State University at Monterey Bay, presented the workshop which focused on responding to this question: “Given all that we ask of our undergraduate research mentors, how do we best train, sustain, and provide feedback to mentors at all stages of their careers?”

Blockus and Brown detail a number of reasons for training mentors including:

  • Improving the undergraduate research experience for everyone
  • Increasing buy-in
  • Creating community
  • Sharing resources
  • Responding to changing student demographics

They also pointed out that, in addition to training faculty, postdoctoral scholars and graduate students in good practices for mentoring undergraduate researchers, we need to educate the undergraduates themselves about how to be good mentees.Mentees

Mentoring workshops and periodic roundtables focused on topics relevant to mentoring relationships can help educate mentors as well as provide support and guidance around the mentoring experience. These can also be used to for mentors to share effective strategies and to provide feedback to each other. Some of the topics Blockus and Brown discuss in the workshops and roundtables they facilitate include:

  • Planning a productive experience with your student(s)
  • Guiding students through the abstract writing process
  • Establishing expectations with Students: Hiring, Firing, Contracts, & more!
  • Maintaining effective communication
  • The (unspoken) role of the mentor in the fellowship application process
  • Conveying Ethical and Responsible Conduct of Research to Undergraduates
  • Maximizing your Time as a Mentor/Maximizing your Mentee’s Time
  • Addressing Diversity
  • Best practices in identifying undergraduate research projects
  • Introducing Reading the Primary Literature to students in your lab

Blockus and Brown also noted the need to educate P&T committees about the significance of mentoring undergraduate research. In addition to asking mentors and mentees to consider what success for an undergraduate researcher “looks like” to the student and to the mentor, they ask “What does success for a faculty member ‘look like’ to the P&T committee?”

Perhaps the most important point made in this session was the need to articulate and discuss expectations – both the expectations the mentor has of the mentee and the expectations the mentee has for the mentor. Both parties have assumptions about the experience and it’s important to make those assumptions visible and use them to open a conversation. Blockus shared a Goal Planning Worksheet her program uses with students in Missouri’s summer science research programs which asks students to identify their learning goals for the summer and to reflect on their expectations of the mentoring experience.

Some questions for mentors to consider about their expectations for their undergraduate researchers include:

  • What expectations do you have for undergraduate researchers you are mentoring?
  • How are expectations conveyed to students?
  • When are these expectations best conveyed? During hiring? During the first week? As feedback in a month’s time? As needed?
  • When do the expectations for students change? How are the new expectations conveyed?
  • When students fail to meet expectations, how do you handle that?
  • When a student is working with a ‘surrogate’ mentor (grad student, post doc, tech), how are expectations established, communicated, and monitored?
  • If things begin to go downhill, how will you handle that? What steps will you take?
  • What questions do you ask when agreeing to work with a student researcher?
  • What are your expectations for students becoming independent learners? How are these expectations conveyed to students?
  • If the student is working with you in a lab setting or on a research team, what are your expectations for attendance at and participation in lab/team meetings?

Finally, here are some additional mentoring resources you might find useful:

CUR has published a handbook on How to Mentor Undergraduate Researchers (scroll down for this 2010 volume).

The University of Wisconsin at Madison provides a number of online mentoring resources.

The HHMI-funded mentoring handbook, Entering Mentoring, is available at our website. Although it is geared to scientists, much of the material is relevant to mentoring in other disciplines. This handbook is used as the basis for a mentoring workshop offered periodically by OUR Liaison Dr. Jenny Hayden.

Nature’s Guide for Mentors is very extensive and includes a self-assessment mechanism for mentors.

What I Learned as GRC in an Astrophysics Course

Written by Erik Dennihy, GRC and graduate student in the Department of Physics and Astronomy

During the spring 2014 semester I took the opportunity to serve as the Graduate Research Consultant for a research-based undergraduate course, ASTR 502: Astrophysics II with Dr. Sheila Kannappan. Like many of the courses discussed on this blog, the class centered on giving students a hands-on experience in scientific research. Modern research methods such as programming, proper uses of statistics, and numerical simulation were covered early on in the course to serve as the tools the students would need to carve a project of their own. I was excited about the plan and had no doubt this would be a more stimulating teaching assignment than I had taken on in semesters past. Naturally, the skills and methods I did not plan on teaching ended up dominating my reflections on the course.

As the course wore on and the students found themselves confronting inescapably interesting intellectual pathways in the face of hard deadlines, an unforeseen (at least to me) series of lessons began taking place. The classroom was transformed from an open forum of scholarly pursuit into a civil war triage center (mild hyperbole of course). The students were getting the sort of crash course in time management that only comes with an individual research effort–a lesson that I naively assumed they had already learned given that they were all upper level undergraduates. Luckily, my lack of foresight on this topic was rectified by Dr. Kannappan when she directly confronted the idea of students scaling down their projects in class one day.

Until that time, I had not even considered the possibility that the students may not have been using their time most efficiently. The students were always working hard during class time and asked few questions which I took to be a sign of understanding and progression. But as I began to discuss with students their options for de-scoping without jeopardizing the goals of the projects, I realized that, for most of the topics, the barriers they had spent most of their time navigating around could have been easily traversed had they simply asked for help earlier. I knew the students well (some from previous courses) and had trouble with the idea that they would withhold a question that they knew I or Dr. Kannappan could answer. While reflecting on the course after the semester it finally dawned on me that the environment we had established in the classroom from the beginning was very different from a regular classroom. The students were expected to produce individual research results and although Dr. Kannnappan stressed the importance of limiting the scope of the projects as much as possible, I think the students still placed a certain importance on the individual aspect. After all, growing up as an aspiring scientist, the rock stars of the science world all stand alone in their greatness. Rarely do we learn early on about the great triumphs of a team of scientists.

In that sense, if I could change anything about the way I approached my role as a GRC it would be to pay closer attention to the types of questions students weren’t asking. The ideal scenario would then be to answer these questions without forcing the students to ask them, thereby allowing them to retain both their sense of individual accomplishment and project schedule. This can be better accomplished in a general sense by staying a few steps ahead of each student in his/her research project, and trying to identify trouble points and ambiguities. Of course this is perhaps already known to those with more wisdom in the art of mentoring, but for a young graduate student in his first GRC role it was an unanticipated but much appreciated takeaway.