Sunday, June 25, 2006

Tip for Advisors

Here’s a Sunday evening tip for all those academic advisors out there. Don’t guilt trip your students.

This was originally going to be a post about a particular subclass of advisors who do almost none of their own lab work but razz their students about inefficient use of experimental resources. But as I thought about it, I realized that arguing against guilt-tripping in a particular instance could imply acceptance of the practice in a general sense. And the more I think about it, the more it seems like a bad idea in all situations.

First of all, Ph.D. students are generally fairly guilt-wracked to begin with. Undergraduate and masters work generally does not prepare them for the amount of screwing up and confusion that occurs in the practice of cutting edge science, and they often feel that it is their fault that the scientific world that unfolds so smoothly in textbooks is such a mess when they try to extend the bounds of knowledge.

If a student is arrogant and in need of cutting down to size, the best way to do this is to give them an appropriately difficult research project. And on the off chance that they knock it off stylishly without difficulties, as their advisor you will probably at least get a last authorship on their Nobel Prize-winning write-up.

Secondly, there are very few scientific, personal, or organizational problems that guilt-tripping can solve. And as the wet chemists say, if you haven’t been dissolved, you’re part of the problem. Before initiating a guilt-inducing protocol, look at your procedural design and determine if the problem you are attempting to solve is actually sensitive to the guilt variable. Chances are, the ideal solution will involve increased communication, not guilt. Most labs have a negative correlation between the guilt and communication variables.

And finally, if a student does need to be guilt-tripped, delegate the task to your technical staff. We are just so much more effective at it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You're absolutely right!