Author Topic: When someone you are mentoring quits after two hours...talked to PI, post 22  (Read 9191 times)

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Shopaholic

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I'm not entirely sure this is an etiquette issue, so mods please feel free to move it. I would be very happy for some insight from experienced and wise EHellions.

I'll try to make this as short as possible:
As it is summer vacation, many undergrad students are starting summer research projects in labs accross campus.
An undergrad student (UG) was assigned to me, and we had our first meeting two days ago.
I outlined my expectations, explained the project and the methods we will be using. I asked UG what his expectations were, and he mentioned a number of times that the project consisted of 150 hours, that he wanted to hand in a "research proposal" as soon as possible (a requirement of his program), and that he was willing to work beyond 150 hours, but didn't want to "work for free." I asked him when he wanted to start, and he said Tuesday.
I sent him home with three short review papers and a 4-page document that summarized some published data pertinent to his project. My PI also suggested I give him a copy of my own research proposal.
I told him to come in on Tuesday to discuss what he read and make a workplan for the upcoming week, and that we'll start working on Wednesday.

UG came in this morning, after having read one of the three papers. He didn't have any questions, just said that he didn't feel that the papers were relevant. I went over the project in more detail, planned out the next two days with him and went over the protocols that detail the procedures we will do tomorrow. I explained that my plan for the day had nothing to do with his project, but that he was welcome to tag along and learn. I sent him to the library to continue reading.

UG returns after half an hour and tells me that this wasn't what he was expecting. Apparently he expected something more applied. I reminded him that the plan for tomorrow was to start working, but that he needs to read the background for his project - that it is expected of every student.

UG replied that he's just an undergrad project student, not a grad student (he repeated this at least twice more during our conversation). I replied that my expectations are the same of every student (I've been working with a high school student for the past few weeks as well).

I stressed the importance of reading in research, explaining that if he wants to write a research proposal, it will have to be based on published work. He replied that he thought we would write it together. I replied that I'd help, but he needs to start on his own (I also suggested that he work a week or two in the lab before starting to write).

Eventually I told him that he could join me for the day doing my work plus regular maintenance as I was on duty, or go back to reading. UG replied that he doesn't know, this is just his first project and what do I suggest he do. I suggested he join me in an attempt to learn more about lab work. He chose to do so.

I started explaining what I was doing, took him to do some boring maintenance tasks, explaining them as well and then we had some time so I showed him how to do something that will be applicable to his project. I told him that I would show him how to do it, explained each stage, and when we finish he can do it on his own again to practice. He agreed.
Part of the process requires some waiting. He got bored, and told me he was going and would be back later. He never returned.

Meanwhile, I contemplated talking to my PI about my conversation with him, because I found his attitude to be ... well, puzzling. Every single student that starts working in the lab reads up on the literature. Another undergrad has spent the last two days in the lab reading.

This afternoon my PI comes and asks me if something happened with UG, because apparently he sent him an email that he quit! PI doesn't really know why, but he sent UG a letter that he would be happy to meet with him to understand why.

I went and talked to PI, who said it could be anything from him having different expectations, to bad chemistry between us, to the work being too hard to UG not liking the color of my eyes. I told PI that I would be happy to know the reasons, so that I can try to do better next time.

My questions are:
1. What happened? Was I too hard on him? Were my expectations too high? I know it's hard to tell without being there, I'd be happy to provide more details if necessary.
2. How do I follow up on this with PI, if at all?
3. If ever confronted with UG again, what should I say?


« Last Edit: August 08, 2012, 11:13:01 AM by Shopaholic »

amylouky

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Re: When someone you are mentoring quits after two hours...
« Reply #1 on: August 07, 2012, 11:59:42 AM »
It sounds like he just wanted to do some Cool Science Stuff!! and not the background work that goes along with it. Without being there it's hard to know if you were hard on him but I don't think your expectations were too high.. sounds like his were just very unrealistic. I don't think you did anything wrong.

philliesphan

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Re: When someone you are mentoring quits after two hours...
« Reply #2 on: August 07, 2012, 12:01:27 PM »
He sounds like an entitled schmuck! You're wondering how YOU can do better next time? By not giving entitled schmucks a second thought after they conveniently remove themselves from your orbit. ;)

Belle

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Re: When someone you are mentoring quits after two hours...
« Reply #3 on: August 07, 2012, 12:13:45 PM »
Your expectations were completely appropriate - how can you figure out what research you want to do until you know what research has already been done (i.e., read the literature!).  There's something going on with this student - whether it's inappropriate expectations, or something in their personal life affecting their school life - that has nothing to do with you.

Side note: Have you ever checked out the Chronicle of Higher Education forums - http://chronicle.com/forums? It's a great place for tips for working with students and commiseration when things don't go so well. (The Chronicle forum can be a bit cliquey, for lack of a better word, so it might be best to peruse well before posting.)

Delphine74

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Re: When someone you are mentoring quits after two hours...
« Reply #4 on: August 07, 2012, 12:20:40 PM »
As a fellow researcher, I'd say your expectations were right on.  I think your student just did not have the slightest idea of what doing research entails.

ShanghaiJill

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Re: When someone you are mentoring quits after two hours...
« Reply #5 on: August 07, 2012, 12:57:08 PM »
You gave him the same instructions you give everyone.

He didn't want to follow them.

Case closed.

mimi_cat

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Re: When someone you are mentoring quits after two hours...
« Reply #6 on: August 07, 2012, 02:46:09 PM »
I think you handled it fine.

It sounds like the reality of his field is not matching up to his expectations.   Its either not what he thought it would be, or he doesn't like it, or any number of reasons.

Best for him to learn this now, rather than after graduation.

I do think it's good that someone reached out to him to talk through it; perhaps they can give him some guidance.

JoyinVirginia

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Re: When someone you are mentoring quits after two hours...
« Reply #7 on: August 07, 2012, 02:53:17 PM »
You gave clear detailed instructions. You reviewed expectations on your part and student had chance to verbalize his expectations and goals. Sounds like a Good Thing he realized this was not what he wanted. It will be a good learning experience if PI can get across that simply disappearing in NOT a good thing.
I work with students in a clinical settingat times, and I always give them reading to do first. I make clear MY expectations are that the readings should be done before they get to clinic, that way they have some idea what to expect and we get right to work.

BeagleMommy

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Re: When someone you are mentoring quits after two hours...
« Reply #8 on: August 07, 2012, 03:02:55 PM »
I work with graduate students who are required to do both a research project and an unpaid internship as part of their degree requirements.  These are the two areas that either make or break the student.  If one of our students had said to the research supervisor that they didn't think reading was relevant to their project there would be a Come to Deity meeting and a close scrutiny of their project.

OP, you clearly defined your expectations and requirements so I think this student may fall under the Special Snowflake category.

Reminds me of the student in my literature class who asked the professor if we could "please not read so much".  :o

QueenfaninCA

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Re: When someone you are mentoring quits after two hours...
« Reply #9 on: August 07, 2012, 03:09:50 PM »
I work with interns (highschool and undergrad) in a research setting. A lot of them have no idea how research works, how much background knowledge they have (very close to zero but they think they already know everything) or how much they will actually be able to accomplish over the summer.

You did nothing wrong. The student is up for a rude awakening unless he switches majors.

artk2002

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Re: When someone you are mentoring quits after two hours...
« Reply #10 on: August 07, 2012, 03:45:02 PM »
Add me to the chorus. You did absolutely nothing wrong. UG's expectations were entirely out of line and he's in for a series of rude awakenings. He's going to find it hard to find a lab to work in in your institution because I'm sure you and your PI will be sharing this story with other researchers.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bow lines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. -Mark Twain

LadyL

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Re: When someone you are mentoring quits after two hours...
« Reply #11 on: August 07, 2012, 03:53:57 PM »
You are lucky he quit early instead of wasting more of your time. Trust me.

Not willing to do background reading? Not going to succeed for a second in pretty much any field. He will learn this the hard way somewhere else but at least you won't have to deal with it.

faithlessone

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Re: When someone you are mentoring quits after two hours...
« Reply #12 on: August 07, 2012, 04:12:14 PM »
Count me in as well.

There's always a few students who think they can get by without doing any 'boring' work (reading, etc.), and they always fall down in the end. It's better that he dropped out now than wasting your time getting you to help him.

Also, I'd bet you any money that:

He replied that he thought we would write it together.

actually meant that he thought you'd write it for him / hold his hand the entire way through, telling him what to put.

As everyone's said, you're well shot of him, and I doubt your PI would have any issue with the way you've handled things. I highly doubt this is the first time it's happened, and it almost certainly won't be the last.

AlephReish

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Re: When someone you are mentoring quits after two hours...
« Reply #13 on: August 07, 2012, 04:31:54 PM »
He's lucky he didn't have my project when I did an undergrad summer research project - my first week was all reading, 9-5, with breaks for lunch and orientation to the museum. And the course of the research involved plenty of reading as well, when the research took new turns.

In other words, you did completely right, Shopaholic. He wanted to do the minimum of work and he saw that you would not let him get away with that. If you want, ask your PI in a week if he ever heard anything again from that student, and if so, what was said and if on reflection your PI thinks you need to do anything differently in the future. If you ever see the student again, the most you need to give him is a polite nod. If that.

Moray

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Re: When someone you are mentoring quits after two hours...
« Reply #14 on: August 07, 2012, 04:32:12 PM »
1. What happened? Was I too hard on him? Were my expectations too high? I know it's hard to tell without being there, I'd be happy to provide more details if necessary.

You crushed his spirit. This is all your fault, and when he encounters the same patterns in future working rel@tionships, that will be all your fault, too. How dare you expect him to actually do background research or (heaven forbid!) work? The nerve.

Seriously, though, you did nothing wrong and gave him plenty of slack. I agree with the others that he just didn't actually want to do any work and decided that procrastinating, whining, and flouncing was an appropriate course of action. You dodged a bullet.


2. How do I follow up on this with PI, if at all?

I don't really think you need to do anything since you already discussed it after the "I QUIT!" email.

3. If ever confronted with UG again, what should I say?

You mean if you're asked to work with him? I'd try and avoid it, personally, but if you can't, I'd make sure the first thing I did was lay out all the work that would be required and ask if he was up to it. 
Utah