Teaching research

Over the last week or so I have, amongst other things, been doing some preparation for two summer scholarship students that will be working with me from December to February. The summer scholarships are a great opportunity for undergraduate students to experience what research is like. The University of Waikato, like several other universities, offers this chance to several students every year.

It’s great for the undergraduate students, since they get the chance to see whether research is really for them, and they get paid as well. And it’s great for lecturers like me because the students can really help push our research areas forward. And successful research helps the university attract money, from government and elsewhere, so it helps the organization too. Everyone’s a winner (or should be).

But it is a tough ask of an undergraduate who is finishing his second year of his degree to be able to do quality scientific research. The skills involved in research go far beyond those that are generally taught in a science degree. Yes – a third year of a degree is often a bit more researchy in flavour – but generally it is knowledge that is taught in a degree, not the skills to break new ground, which is what research is. Really, it is not until someone has gone through a PhD (this could be five years on top of a BSc degree) that they are heading towards being a compentent independent scientific researcher, and even then, it isn’t guaranteed. Maybe it’s slightly different in (say) an arts subject, but in science, just getting yourself to the coal-face of research (to put in another metaphor)is tough going.

So this means that I cannot at all consider that I could take my two summer scholarship students and expect them to be competent researchers from the first day they join me in the summer holidays. They are going to need a lot of guidance, and this means a lot of preparation on my part.  

But it should be worth it.

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