I am starting a TT position next fall at a masters program. Do you think I should consider accepting a masters student right away, or is it wise to hold off a year? Any advice is appreciated.
Date: 14 Apr 2011 16:53
Number of posts: 15
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Hold off, if you can. Advising grad students is A LOT of work (especially pre-Master's). Get settled in on other fronts first. You'll have plenty keeping you busy with getting your research up and running (with competent undergrads helping), designing and delivering new courses, dealing with administrative nonsense (which we are NOT trained in, but sucks up an inordinate amount of time), and just trying to assess and get a handle on your new surroundings. During the spring semester, try to assess and observe current processes for advising and taking on new students (read the current level of thesis work to gauge expectations; sit in on defenses to observe protocol) and get more involved with the grad student admissions. Then you'll be both better prepared and more informed for the second year.
I have a different perspective. I'm starting a TT position in the fall as well, and I've accepted a student for the fall. Yes, it's a lot of work to learn the ropes at a new university while mentoring an incoming student. However, I talked about it with other junior faculty both at my new institution and at others, and for me the pros outweighed the cons. Specifically, having someone on hand to really help set up the lab, who will be invested in a way that an undergraduate likely will not, was important to me. I also know myself well enough to know that teaching and administrative things are huge time drains, and that it would be helpful for me to have some external incentive to get the lab running. Also, I figured it would be nice to have someone who is eager and willing to talk about my research area with me, who can help train and manage an undergraduate research assistant team, and who can help me (even if it's more effort to teach/edit than to do it myself on the front end) with analyses and writing papers/chapters. I truly think it's an individual preference, but for me, having fresh energy and someone else to talk to about the projects will likely make me more productive and happier. Though….ask me next year if it worked!
It would be nice to have an eager and invested grad student, but that is best case scenario. What if the student is not particularly invested in your line of research, has little prior research experience managing themselves and others (e.g., they just followed directions as an undergrad researcher), and is still in the undergrad mentality of focusing on course grades instead of gaining research experience? I say this because I've had both types of grad students working for me (as a post-doc), the latter being a huge source of stress and work, and most falling on a continuum in between. For example, some have the passion, but it took them a whole semester to bolster that passion with knowledge of the literature (and even then, only on a borderline acceptable level). Others have great technical skills, but conceptually they just can't wrap their heads around a certain topic or approach (and may not be interested enough to try). I know this varies by program (but may be more common at the Master's level), but it's never safe to assume a certain 'starting point' developmental level with new grad students, particularly with lab management.
Also consider the above poster's statement regarding assistance with analyses and writing papers, "even if it is more effort to teach/edit do it myself on the front end". Exactly. You spend the whole first year teaching these skills, which is effort better funneled towards getting some things done early on toward tenure before you take on a student.
After I was hired for my new TT job for this Fall (and did my second visit for housing), everyone from the chair to my colleagues talked about how important it was to them for me to get tenure and they wanted to protect my research and teaching time at all costs. And their advice was absolutely no service work (beyond maybe small things for my program area) and taking on grad students my first year (though I got a research assistant). When I asked when I could/should take on a student, I was told anytime I felt I was 'ready", but I should wait until my second year at the earliest. So, I'm just passing on that advice: Protect your time and sanity!
When I took my TT job 2.5 years ago, they had accepted a grad student who had wanted to work with the retiring TT person I was being hired to replace. So I ended up taking the student, and so far it has worked out well. He was very helpful in helping me get my lab up and running, although I presume I could have done this with some dedicated undergrads (which can be hard to come by your first semester or two before you start teaching much).
Perhaps, I can provide another perspective on this issue. I'm a current graduate student and when I entered my program I began working with my mentor in her second year. To be more specific, she came right from her Ph.D. granting institution to my school and was there one year before taking me on. I had a master's already, helped someone else set up their lab (my advisor in my master's program was in her first year), served as lab coordinator, had experience with undergraduates, etc. Thus, there was not very much work for my current advisor to teach me on that front.
However, due to her trying to get tenured, she is quite slow with reading my dissertation (for the proposal part there would be between 3-4 months from me sending it to her to her reading it). This is only for my dissertation and not for any of the publications we have had accepted, submitted, or are currently working on. Next, during the summer, she cannot find time to read my proposal either but she has time to read our manuscripts. This has significantly delayed my progress on my dissertation and has been a very big source of frustration but the publications we are getting out has somewhat made up for this. Additionally, she has a heavy load for teaching assistants because she did not have much teaching experience from her Ph.D. granting institution. For example, she gives students two major papers using a total of 45 hours in one quarter for teaching assistantships. This is not counting the other duties (e.g., grading three exams, grading two extra credit papers) in her course so it somewhat exceeds the amount of hours (around 60 hours versus the 40 hours we have allocated) allowed. Again, though, this work has given me some good experience with grading, etc.
I understand all this in terms of her trying to get tenured but I believe she was not ready to take a student on in her second year and should have waited one or two more years. Now after all this, I believe she was ready this school year to take on a student (2 years after I began the program). On my end, I realise I should have acknowledged this but I had a great experience with helping my master's program advisor setting up her lab.
Based on my experience, I will probably wait at least a year then see what type of position I am in. However, my experience may be unique and not shared by everyone.
This is a great perspective. I think it is important for new faculty members to consider how their slow acclimation to the tenure-track may also negatively affect the progress of an advisee in the program. It's quite a delicate balance to further two people's progress towards a goals that can potentially conflict with each other (working on publications vs. theses/dissertations).
I recommend holding off on getting grad students until you've established yourself in your new position (e.g., had a year to acclimate yourself to the teaching load and admin duties, and had some time to get your lab running). I would only take on a grad student in my first year if I had a good sense ahead of time as to whether the student would work out well. For example, I know someone who took on a grad student in his first year because the student had been an undergrad in the same lab where he (the new prof) did his postdoc, so he knew all about the student's abilities and work ethic, and they had already worked together on some research projects.
I'm wondering if the advice would be different depending on whether it is a MA grad student as opposed to PhD student? It also may depend on the type of MA/PhD - for example, clinical or counseling students may have significant time commitments for externships so it will be difficult to get them to do any real work…at least this is what I found out the hard way.
You only need to ask two questions:
1. Do you have research ideas that are ready to go?
2. Is the student willing to work hard and somewhat independently?
If yes, take them because it'll likely pay off (tenure credit for mentoring, more research done, extra help when you need it). If no, avoid it…
When I started my tenure-track job years ago, I was informed by my division chair that they had admitted a new grad student for their incoming faculty member that I could mentor "if I desired" and that said student was a "diamond in the rough." I was smart enough to realize that "if I desired" meant "do it," but not smart enough to realize that diamonds in the rough should be avoided like the plague if you are a new and struggling assistant prof. We ended up having to dismiss the student after 3 years of much time and effort by me (and, apparently, little to none by the rough diamond).
In short, new grad students are a lot of work, and it takes a couple of years and some good luck before they contribute significantly to your research program. A better path, imo, would be to seek out advanced grad students in your program who might be looking to boost their own productivity and skillset by collaborating with somebody other than their advisor. (It goes without saying that this strategy should be attempted only if it is the norm in your new department for students to work with multiple faculty members; at many places it is not.) You would have the benefit of working with somebody who knows their way around a lab and the subject pool and how to analyze and write up data, and you would be spared the time you'd have to invest in teaching those things from scratch.
This sounds all terribly discouraging. Does anybody on this website have some positive suggestions for making the most out of working with students at less selective schools. I'd really appreciate some concrete advice on how can mentor in my first year while still being productive as a new faculty? Is it really impossible?
I was looking forward to mentoring undergrad and MA students in my new position although I also had experiences with more informal mentoring of research assistants during postdoc that are similar to what people described here…
The best advice anyone ever gave me about mentoring students (undergrad or master's level) is that if you find yourself doing more work than they are on THEIR project, then something is terribly wrong. It is THEIR thesis, and your task is simply to guide and support, not do the work. Unfortunately, I did not think of mentored student projects in this way the first year or two, and ended up spending much too much time working on projects that the students, themselves, should have been working on. Now, I am careful to set up expectations with students at the beginning of the process, and I tell them that I expect them to work on the project more than I do.
The scenario is different, obviously, if it is MY project. My undergrads work with me on a variety of projects that are MINE—I work on these quite a bit and direct them. But it's quite different if it is their project.
Not to add fuel to the fire, but I interviewed at several places with masters students, and pretty universally, people commented that it was the same amount of work, maybe even significantly MORE work, to advise a masters student compared to an undergraduate. It's not the same as mentoring a Ph.D. student - a masters student could have little or no psychology background. So I would not take on masters students as a way to forward your research program, but rather, to contribute to the department ("service," not "research") and engage in mentorship (e.g. give them a good foundation for further graduate study).
With a Ph.D. student, I think you can expect to get at least a publication or two out of your mentorship investment. With a Masters student, as with undergraduates, I would expect the occasional publication as a "bonus," but not as the central goal. Lots of masters theses don't work out at all. They are a learning experience, first and foremost.