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How to organize student work


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Hello everyone.

I attend a course of seminars called "English for scientists" and I have a homework to ask some question on your nice forum. So I hope you'll help me to kill two bunnies with one shot by solving a problem and executing a task.

 

Now, to the question. I supervise scientific work of a couple of 4th year students and they are not very willing to spend their whole days in laboratory like me and my collegues. They sure are able to handle with great amounts of work when they feel it is necessary, but mostly they manage to find good excuses to not attend laboratory, which results into reducing quality of their researches. What can I do to make my students work in a lab on a regular basis without forcing them to it? How often in your opinion they should attend lab and for how long they should stay? Maybe I should give them tasks with deadlines?

 

By the way, we deal with magnetic domain structure in crystals.

 

If you notice some mistakes in my English, I'd be glad if you'd point on them.

Edited by Vandreg
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How about make the lab work exciting, like tell them what could be the result of their work. As a student before we do the same not attending lab works specially if the activity is boring or repeated.

 

Are they doing it group work? If so why not give the group we the best work a credit, grades or exceptions may do.

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How about make the lab work exciting, like tell them what could be the result of their work.

 

They are aware about possible results and their work is really exciting. This is not something like just measuring numbers and building plots, they run experiments using magneto-optical techniques (even involving liquid nitrogen!) and get amazing videos with hipnotizing complex domains behavior. In some cases there are even changes in color due to magnetical phenomena. Sure, they have to measure some parameters and build some plots, but this is not just numbers, they can see what is really happening. Sometimes we have to invent approaches to measurements and think about new parameters, like how to describe domains shape with numbers.

Such experimental work is too difficult to do it alone, so they work in groups, but mostly not with each other. There must be at least one laboratory staff member to watch over equipment. Two people is enough for this work, so usually each student works in a pair either with me or with one of my collegues.

Work is inevitably repeated but it seems to me that it is hard to call their working process a boring thing. At the same time, it takes a lot of effort and they do have some responsibility for what they do, so I think they might be afraid of all this complexity and huge amount of things they have to understand clearly. However, I teach them to important things bit by bit.

 

 

 

why not give the group we the best work a credit, grades or exceptions may do.

 

 

You mean I should think about some kind of bonuses for good work? Grades would just add a headache for all of us. The only thing comes to my mind is to give them cookies.

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During my brief sojourn at med school the labs were long and although compulsory not well attended (that doesn't give one a huge amount of confidence does it?). They were 3 hour sessions so there was always a little down time - and the staff used to wander around and check with each lab group if there were any questions on that week's assignment that they would like to run through. If you popped in and out, or had a bad attendance record then your questions went pretty much unanswered; but if you were a stalwart then you could pretty much expect to get a helping-hand on one or two questions of the assignment every week.

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Maybe formalize the teams and require short weekly status reports on what their teams and they as individuals did in the lab that week?

 

Just try and get into a minimum effort mindset to analyze whatever system you decide on.

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That is a quite common issue and I wished that there was an universal solution to it (oh, how I wish). It will depend quite a lot on the individual, but I found that over the years in university a certain type of economic thinking becomes prevalent in students. I.e. do the least amount possible to get through whatever you have to, so that you invest your time that is more interesting/fun to you.

 

At this point in live many do not have developed a proper work ethics in which they see assignment as a job that has to be done well. It gets worse when things have to be repeated. In their minds they already did the assignment and do not understand why the have to repeat it. It takes quite a bit of an effort to change the attitude from student to worker (and sometimes it only happens late in their PhD).

 

The alternative is, as has been suggested, to utilize the whole work more in an assignment/class based work. Instead of going the scientist route (i.e. being excited by the work itself) one has to break down the work into smaller (and gradable) assignments. Truth been told, I found that the majority of students are happier with simple, even mindless assignments for which they get good grades as compared to solving interesting questions.

Maybe 2% are getting interested or show up with a good work ethics (often older students, with work experience, military experience, or, somewhat strangely, perhaps, foreigners)

 

Note that my posts are a very bad source to learn English as I ramble and generally only make a passing acquaintance with orthography, grammar or logic, when I post.

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Well, I can't really relate to their not wanting to work in the Lab: during my summer studentship I often worked 9am-8pm, and slept from 2am (actually not such a good idea in hindsight but it was fun!). However, this was working on a project that I was very interested in and had 1:1 support from a post-doc. There are many possible reasons for lack of engagement with Lab work. One of the main challenges for a supervisor is to set work that is sufficiently challenging as to be stimulating but not so challenging as to lead the student to give up in despair. That's a really difficult judgment call to make - each individual student will be at different levels, and will learn at different speeds. The support that each student requires will therefore be unique to them as individuals. I was lucky in that my mentor was a very good teacher and also knew how much supervision to provide so as to be neither negligent nor claustrophobic. I would say, teach them the essentials of the theory and techniques that are pertinent to the project - then let them get on with it unsupervised to begin with, and be responsive to their subsequent appeals for further support/supervision. Also bear in mind that the students, depending on their level of study, may feel very nervous and apprehensive about their own performance. They are liable to be extremely sensitive so kindness is essential. Running a gel correctly or incorrectly at that stage can feel like a huge victory or career-ending tragedy... I remember when I first performed TC with my mentor watching over, I was so nervous about doing it wrong, when I was pippeting my hands were shaking like crazy! So be gentle with them smile.png And if all else fails, you could leave a trail of Oreos leading to the bench wink.png

Edited by Tridimity
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Everything you said is quite interesting and I will consider it, but conversation has moved into slightly wrong direction. My students do have a motivation already, but I think I shoud build some set of rules for them to make it clear how often and when they must work. Like "come to lab three days a week" or "get a task in monday and make a report in saturday". But I am not sure in what way I should organize it.

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Everything you said is quite interesting and I will consider it, but conversation has moved into slightly wrong direction. My students do have a motivation already, but I think I shoud build some set of rules for them to make it clear how often and when they must work. Like "come to lab three days a week" or "get a task in monday and make a report in saturday". But I am not sure in what way I should organize it.

 

Oh, I see. Perhaps you could have them work in the Labs alternate morning and afternoon sessions interspersed with meal times - some people prefer to work in the mornings while some find it easier to concentrate in the afternoons/evenings.

 

E.g. Monday 10am-1pm

Tuesday 2pm-5pm

Wednesday 10am-1pm

Thursday 2pm-5pm

Friday 10am-1pm

 

Assessments could be provided on a regular basis e.g. weekly.

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In my experience it works better if they have a deliverable that they have to present after a give amount of time (analyze X samples with Y amount of error and present at the end of the week or suchalike). Having fixed hours can result in people coming in and just wasting time (this depends on how the lab is organized, though). That being said, it is useful to provide guidelines i.e. each analysis takes that amount of time so you likely need to be here at least three times a week and put in 8h each day or you are not going to make it (as an example).

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In my experience it works better if they have a deliverable that they have to present after a give amount of time (analyze X samples with Y amount of error and present at the end of the week or suchalike). Having fixed hours can result in people coming in and just wasting time (this depends on how the lab is organized, though). That being said, it is useful to provide guidelines i.e. each analysis takes that amount of time so you likely need to be here at least three times a week and put in 8h each day or you are not going to make it (as an example).

 

I actually agree with this approach but depending on the level of study e.g. undergraduate practicals, since they are so supervision-heavy, require fixed timetables and some spoon-feeding of information. The more autonomy provided the better though.

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That is true. Practical courses are much more rigorously structured. Most are not geared or useful for data generation, though. From the OP I had the impression that it was a bit more like volunteer work or undergrad research. I could be wrong, of course.

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  • 4 weeks later...

During my student time I was not having any mode of approach to get organize at work where as as of now being inspired by my professional life, I have suggested my kids to get organized at work with the deployment of task management tools which can better support them to be organized. They are currently using task management software from <removed by mod> which I too use in my office to stay organized and well planned.

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