What Not To Do As An Academician?
I have been intending to write for a while on this topic now. Not that I am an academician but I,for sure, intend to be one some day. It’s a far fetched dream for now for the number of years it takes needs a lot of patience. It is neither a lecture note nor a preaching. It is just one simple opinion of an average student who is looking forward to be a fine mentor one day.
It’s been exactly an year I graduated. I always had a penchant for teaching. I exactly knew where I see myself 10 years down the line. But I wanted to know how the system works and it takes to be there. I turned down a typical job industry offer and took up a research project at IIT Mandi, Himachal Pradesh. Ten months studying and working in the lap of Himalayas, I now work with another research project at IIT Delhi. These 12 months gave me an opportunity to cross paths with both some of the finest and lamest (sorry for the word) academicians and research scholars out there. As a student, I am in a decent position to jot down what I will ‘Never’ do as a mentor.
- Sit down with your student but..
But don’t spoon feed them. You need to understand what he already knows. For starters, make him work with someone who is already working on the project. This will make him understand the basics more quickly. To add-on, it will be easier to get his queries sorted from someone who already has a hand-on experience on the work for some time.
- Give him a second company but..
But don’t make him feel left out. Two or more brains working on a single problem set will always give a more efficient solution. However, it is your responsibility to ensure that they get equal credits for the work they do. It is equally important in such scenarios to divide the work load from your end in the very beginning. This avoids personal conflicts in the first go.
- Tell him how to approach a problem but…
But don’t do it before you have done your own study about it. I have met people who give instructions as to go ahead using this algorithm, tweak this code, refer to a paper here only to come back later to see later that it isn’t working. It is absolutely alright if there are failures in the beginning but it is worse if you give them a wrong start.
- Give him the space to work but..
But don’t shut out yourself from his work. Keep yourself updated of his progress. You need to understand that if the student feels that the professor himself isn’t interested, motivation drops down to another level.
- Scold him where necessary but..
But don’t lose control on your comments. The moment you say lines like “You’re wasting resources”, “ You don’t know the basics in the first place” or even questioning like “ Do you think such results are enough?”, you lose the right to be a mentor in first place. Understand that you took 10-12 years after college to be where you are. The student has just started.
- Prepare him to fight for his work but..
But don’t forget to stand for him when necessary. I have come to see that students become a victim of a relationship between two or more professors. Professional competitiveness can not be ignored in current academic setting for obvious reasons. However, if you can not stand up for your student for what is right, he will stop looking up to you.
- Be a friend to him but..
But don’t allow him to cross lines. A student must be able to talk to you without apprehensions but should know where to stop. I had a professor with with whom I chatted for like an hour even after he became the Dean. The conversations would include everything from “What is the scope of embedded technology ?” to “Why is leadership an important part of human values?” to “What I wanted to do in my life?”. He is one of the finest person I have come across as a professor. But even in this friendly faculty-student relationship, never once I went overboard. He maintained an aura of himself which gained him respect.
- Make him involve in administrative work but..
But understand that he has a life too. If you say that he should work a minimum of 8–9 hours in lab, give him that space and time. I have been in a situation where I had to lie and took a 4 day holiday. I went out of town because I needed a break. Because I had slept for a total of 7 hours in 4 days. I took a break because I wanted to sleep!
Last but not the least,
- Have hopes with him but..
But don’t become a hindrance in his dreams. It is good to have high hopes from the students, especially research fellows that they may continue working for a long term. However, people have dreams. Don’t become an obstacle for them to achieve it. If you are the one with good contacts and resources, those students are the best place to invest. Being a reason for a shattered dream is worse than being a bad mentor. Trust me!