I've been thinking hard about the situation I described last week with an undergrad student (UgS) who is looking to work in the lab over the summer. The fact is, I think I jumped too quickly to a decision based on my immediate goals, without stepping back a bit. Obviously, as a new faculty member my main focus is getting things DONE in the lab and writing grants. From this perspective it is easy to say that anything that does not specifically lead to producing data that can be used for publications and grants is not worth my time right now. I'm stretched thin enough as it is and as such, should strive to minimize any more distractions at all costs. Right?
Well, the situation with UgS is not so cut and dry. As I mentioned earlier, UgS came to the lab as part of a specific diversity program and would be supported over the summer by this program. This same program is one that I have started a relationship with and written into grants as something I am committed to supporting. Grants aside, I am committed to the goals of the program and want to see it succeed, both as a whole and in my own lab. What I had not taken into consideration was that these students require more work from me than typical undergrad researchers and it is unreasonable for me to hold them up to the same light that I do some of the other students in the lab. I think I realized this on some level, but did not fully appreciate it until I sat down to think about the situation with UgS. This is the point of the program. This is what I have committed to.
Sure, there are flaws in the program in terms of interaction between the coordinators and the mentors and there has to be more support for the mentors in terms of being prepared for the various students who we are sent, but I still think my expectations were in the wrong place. Unfortunately, with everything that has been going on this semester I did not take the time to reflect on this until now, which is entirely my fault. Having spoken to several people in the program and UgS directly, I now feel that I need to be more involved with this student than other undergrads and very carefully set up a plan so that UgS will succeed, despite their limitations. If it means that I need to spend a bit more of my time working with UgS and that one of my grad students needs to watch UgS for longer than they would normally monitor an undergrad in the lab, that's the price I am willing to pay for the goals of the program. After all, what is commitment without being willing to shoulder some cost?