August 8, 2015

Wrapping up summer mentoring of research students

Posted by Laura Guertin

This week, I am having the final meetings with my summer undergraduate researchers. It has been quite a busy summer, mentoring six students on three different research projects. And I know I will still serve as a mentor to these students long after they leave my campus. But there are always some items I like to wrap up with at the end of the summer, and I thought I would share how I make sure my student researchers are positioned to talk about their research and promote their own new content knowledge and skills sets after their summer experience. I find these exercises especially useful to my students that are about to transfer to another campus/institution, so they can immediately highlight their accomplishments with a new group of faculty in a new department.

  • Write a title and abstract. Even if students are not presenting their results, help students in building some of the foundational research skills essential for science communication – how to write a good title, and how to summarize research into an effective abstract.  I also have students generate a one-page flyer that they can hand to future faculty and/or research mentors. This short snapshot of the summer research, whether it was finalized or is ongoing, is now documented for a student and the faculty mentor to share with students interested in research in the future.  If your student researcher is ready with their results, take the dedicated time you have in the summer (not during the semester, when faculty and students are pulled in multiple directions) to make a poster that can be used at a future conference (GSA, AGU, Sigma Xi, etc.) or just posted in a hallway or in the library on campus.


  • Two of my student researchers, measuring tree circumference to determine the ecohealth contributions from this historic tree at a local arboretum.

    Two of my student researchers, measuring tree circumference to determine the ecohealth contributions from this historic tree at a local arboretum.

    Take photos of the students engaged in research. An image can grab the attention much more than plain text when documenting student research. Have someone take photos of the student in the field, with lab equipment, even explaining their research to others. Provide copies of these photos to the student so he/she can also use them to promote their own work.  Although not as professional-looking, geology selfies (see my blog post on this topic) can add to a student’s portfolio and online presence, demonstrating engagement and enjoyment with research.


  • Have your University Relations office write up an article on the student work. Campuses can be slow in the summer, with limited activity. But universities are always looking for good stories of students and their great academic accomplishments. It doesn’t hurt to ask someone to come interview your student for a story for the campus website, or perhaps be included in a welcome back campus video. This not only helps the student practice explaining their research to a non-scientist, but it also provides publicity for the student that can be searched/found online.


  • Help students update their resumes, LinkedIn profiles, etc. I have found that my students don’t know how to document a summer research experience on a resume, and the Career Services offices on our campuses have templates that are in much more of a business format that don’t highlight undergraduate research engagement.  It is incredibly important and rewarding to help students get their research activities listed on their resumes as clearly and accurately as possible.


  • Make sure students have the elevator speech prepared. This is one of the first tasks I start with at the beginning of the summer – having students prepared to give a very quick summary of their research for anyone they might meet on and off campus to talk about how they are spending their summer “vacation.” Just as important, students practice their speech with me at the end of the summer, to make sure they are ready to summarize what they did when they meet new faculty and new mentors at the start of the semester.  Below is one idea that has formed the basis of part of Nautilus Magazine’s website.

  • Think about having students present at an AGU Virtual Poster Showcase or other conference. Some universities will have a summer research symposium to celebrate the accomplishments in their student summer research community. Perhaps your researchers completed enough of their research in time to write an abstract for the GSA or AGU August deadlines for the fall conferences. But for student projects that are running up to the last-minute, why not consider having your student(s) participate in AGU’s Virtual Poster Showcase?  There are two showcases running this fall, and they present an excellent opportunity for students to engage with peers and with virtual judges.  I’m extremely excited about this option, as two of my research students are transferring to another campus this fall, so getting funding sources for students that are elsewhere to travel is a real challenge.  Now, my students can still disseminate their research results in a conference format that I’m sure will continue to expand and grow in the very near future (and look for a blog post in the very near future with more on AGU’s Virtual Poster Showcase!).


  • Have the talk about intellectual property and who owns the research outcomes. Especially for students that are graduating or transferring, be sure a student is clear on what they can share, what they can post online, what they can present, and what they can continue to work on (especially if they transfer). Although I have students work on projects completely independent of my own research, some students work on summer research that are a piece of a larger research project that is part of a faculty member’s program, or a program run by/through a museum, National Park, other research lab, etc. It does not hurt to make sure there is clarity on not just what the data mean and show at the end of the summer, but where these outcomes are promoted and shared, and by whom.

This is not an exhaustive list of how to wrap up summer research with students, but at least it is a start to help them with the next chapter of their academic/professional lives. Please add comments below if there are any other items you make sure your students address at the end of the summer!