CRA-DMP Evaluation Report #1

The Mentors' Point of View: Issues Involved in Mentoring in the DMP

III. Receiving assistance in their research: Two different mentor expectations of the DMP

There were two differing opinions among the mentors when discussing the importance of receiving some research benefit from the student while participating in the DMP. Many mentors participated in the DMP with the intention of volunteering their time to help an undergraduate and viewed any contribution to their research as a bonus. Some mentors viewed the experience in the DMP as an investment of time and felt that some assistance from the student on their research program was a critical part of their participation in the program. In this section, we will discuss these two mentor views.

III.A. The "best of both worlds:" Assisting an undergraduate and receiving extra help

While most mentors participated in the DMP with the intention of volunteering their time to help a female undergraduate, many did expect to derive some benefit from their experience in the DMP. However, it was not a necessary condition of their participation in the program. Most mentors described the DMP as the "best of both worlds," because they could encourage and help an undergraduate while also receiving assistance on their own research.

I: What did you expect to get out of your experience in the mentoring program?

R: What did I expect to get out of it? Well, I guess some satisfaction that I was able to help a student in some way or another. Also, I guess on the side it was very nice that they both did work that was very useful for our research project. I'd take a guess it was more kind of a sort of a combination of the two of them.

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I: What did you expect to get out of your experience in the mentoring program?

R: I was expecting to have the opportunity to help an undergraduate complete a research project which would facilitate in some ways my own research program and would assist her in her career progression and that might or might not end up as a published paper or presentation.

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I: It sounds like your reasons for applying were more focused on getting the student involved in research?

R: To be honest, it was sort of half and half. Getting a student involved, showing a student what it would be like to do research, giving them an opportunity to do that, and also needing some help on our project as well. This is a way to get some more help involved.

Many of the mentors we interviewed commented that although they were pleased when the student did contribute to their research, it was important to keep the students' interest at the forefront.

I: Is there anything good that comes out for the mentors?

R: I think if you design your projects correctly you can get something out of it in terms of some kind of a contribution that you can use in your research. I don't think you should go into it thinking that is you main goal though. I think you have to go into it thinking you're doing this for the student.

I: Why is that important?

R: Because I think you'll have, you might be disappointed in terms of what comes out of it. If you're used to working with graduate students there's a big difference and I think if that's the only reason you're doing it is for the research project I think you're doing it for the wrong reason.

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I guess I wasn't so much thinking about what I would get out of it as much as what I would hope that they would get out of it. I would say that I was actually quite pleased with the work that was done although I didn't know what to expect about the quality would be of the work that they would do. So that's actually been I guess a pleasant surprise that in addition to the fact that they have the experience about finding out something about research and interacting with female faculty, they also do a good job, so I was pleased about that but it wasn't necessarily an expectation.

Thus, while most mentors expected to receive some research benefit from their experience in the DMP, many of these mentors viewed the research benefit as a bonus, rather than a necessary component of the program. For these mentors, the critical aspect of the program was assisting the student.

III.B. A necessary component of the DMP was for the mentors to receive research help from the student

III.B.1. Mentors viewed their participation in the DMP as an investment of time that should return some research benefit

Some mentors viewed their participation in the DMP as an investment of time that should return some research benefit. These mentors expressed that the summer is an important time to spend on research and felt that being responsible for an undergraduate for ten weeks required a significant amount of time. When they did not receive any research benefit from their student, they described their investment of time as "lost."

I have to admit, I was looking for free labor, and found some good free labor. If it had been just an education for them, I've done that as far as our students -- an independent project. But for 40 hours a week, it's a little bit more than an independent project, and it does take a lot of effort on your part. So if you're not at least getting good work out, then yeah, you've lost.
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It varied, but [I spent] a lot of time [with the student]. I mean, it was like an hour a day. Probably 20 minutes to an hour every day, and I was here every day all through the summer without any reimbursement of my time, no money for my time, and I got nothing out of her, so it was just a sink for me. I put time into her [and] didn't really get anything out of her at all.

In fact, some mentors initially hesitated to participate in the DMP because they felt that it could not guarantee a research benefit for the time they invested.

R: I would never go out of my way to do [the DMP].

I: And why is that?

R: To me it's a terrific time and energy commitment and I know that if I worked by myself all summer that I'd be productive. If I spend, you know five hours a week with a student, I have no guarantee that they're gonna be worth my time.

I: Right, and it sounds like what you're thinking is that in these two cases it was, in some ways very productive but it might not happen again.

R: That's right. I don't know that I'd be willing to take the chance.

III.B.2. Mentors wanted more input in the student selection process to ensure some research benefit

Some mentors expressed that their student lacked the basic skills to do her research project, and their research suffered because they needed to spend extra time teaching and orienting her. These mentors stated that they would only participate in the DMP if they personally knew the student's skills and background were sufficient to do the project.

I: Would you participate again in this program?

R: I probably will. ... The reason I have to think twice is: one, I have to look at the timing, availability for myself. I find that because of a lot of time that I have to spend with the student, teaching her the stuff, it ended up that my research project has to suffer a little. So, I mean, there are certainly advantages in there, but there are certainly things that I have to give up, and that's something that I have to weigh again. Put it this way: if I can pick my own student, or if I have a student in mind that I would like to have, then I will apply. But I would not apply and expect to have a student assigned to me.

I: And is the only reason [to guarantee a certain] level of preparation for the student in terms of research, or are there other-?

R: Yeah, I think it's more for research, because I think that the program should be carried on so that it's beneficial to both sides. And from what I see, from my experience, the last summer that I [participated], I think it's more beneficial to the students than to myself.

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I: Would you do this program again, given that experience?

R: If I could pick a student from [my institution] that I already knew and was already familiar with the course work, I would because it would be such a good experience for them. But there almost has to be something in it for me before I would do it. And because the losses can potentially be so great, I probably wouldn't unless there was something - I don't know...It's really hard to pull somebody in for 12 weeks and have them just work at that level because I've got graduate student that work for free too. If they don't have assistantship, that's just what they're expected to do, and they're just a whole lot more productive because I can keep them around and interact with them later. So I would probably have to have a graduate student, maybe who's getting some money out of it, and then I would. I'd be happy to be involved that way, but I don't think I would at this cause it was just really nothing in it for me and a whole lot that I lost, and a lot of frustration.

Many of these mentors stated that they would like to be able to participate in the process of matching the students and the mentors. By participating in the matching process, these mentors felt that they would better be able to guarantee that they would work with the students with the appropriate background that was necessary to complete their project.

I: You also mentioned the "better matching of students" -- what did you mean by that?

R: The student applicants, some of them have strong mathematical backgrounds, some of them may not, some of them have good programming skills. If the mentor can actually take a look at the student applicants, and say, "Well, these are the students that will fit my program better." That may help a lot more than just having the program director send, you know, try to match the mentor with the student.

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I don't know how you could do a better job of matching other than maybe letting the people talk over the phone. Because I do think if I'd have gotten a chance to look at four or five resumes, I probably could have said, "Oooh, I really like these." And, "Hey, these guys aren't going to work for me." So the fact that I was totally removed from the selection of my student ... I'm not saying I want to select everybody's, but if somebody said, "Hey, these are 20 that I've got." And even a 2 or 3 line summary of what their things were. Sometimes you can pick out something, like they've had a class in scheduling or they've had a parallel class, or they've done genetic algorithms. Sometimes there's a one line thing in the resume that you can go, "Hey, hey, we didn't expect anyone to have this, but boy, if they do, I can sure use it!" So that's the only thing I can think that maybe would have helped, is if I would have been able to look at the resume. At least that way I could have picked someone that was more suited to what I needed.

Evaluator Point of View

These mentors expressed that they wanted more input in selecting their mentees to ensure a proper match. Through trying to ensure that the students have the proper background needed to conduct research in the mentor's area of expertise, the mentors are attempting to create an experience that may be beneficial for both mentor and student. However, this could be problematic. As noted in the student section of this document, students entered into the DMP with the intention of making decisions about future career paths. Thus, many viewed the DMP as more than a research experience; they viewed it as a way to learn about graduate school and academic life. In fact, through their experience in the DMP, many students were able to decide if a career in academic CS&E was "right" for them. If the selection process is defined solely by student background, this may prevent the program from reaching students who are at a critical juncture in a career decision and would benefit from a valuable experience such as the DMP.

Evaluator Suggestion

Mentors are encouraged to take advantage of the space on the application form where they can indicated requirements for the student.

Evaluator Questions:

1. How important is the student academic background to the success of the DMP for the student? for the mentor?

2. Would allowing mentors to participate in the selection process fit with the goal of the program?

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