I had an off-line discussion with a collaborator about student supervision and how frustrating it can be. As a professor, you have, from time to time, to supervise students. It could be a graduate student you are supervising as part of their studies, it could be an undergraduate project, it could an assistant you’ve hired.
You know you have a bad student if the student
- cannot keep track of tasks assigned to him and be responsible for such tasks;
- lies to you about what has been done and what hasn’t been done;
- repeatedly ignores some of your phone calls or emails.
In my experience, a bad student is a drain on your resources and a professor simply has to drop such a student as soon as possible. Even if you have funding or need of a student, you are better off with no student than a bad student.
So, what about my title? The art of supervising students?
My experience has been that there is no need to be tough or strict with the students. There is nothing magical you can do: forcefully organizing many meetings with the student often won’t help. If you have a bad student (see above), cut your losses as early as possible. Otherwise, trust the student.
Here are a few rules based on my experience:
- Be clear about the tasks you expect the student to perform and the time it should take.
- Be available to the student in a personalized way: some students benefit from frequent meetings, others do not.
- Get to know and leverage the student strengths and know his weaknesses: you are better off doing some of the tasks yourself.
- Trust the student: most students have tremendous potential and will deliver greatness given a chance.