Thursday, 11 September 2008

Motivating new research students

Many students, particularly at Master's level, are highly motivated to produce immediately useful work for their topic of interest. A problem is sometimes that they do not have the technical training to do so quickly, and it can be irritating for them to struggle to match their ambition to their untrained ability at implementation. The often slow pace of academic production and the impression that advancement is more to do with adoption of academic attitudes and norms than reaching the student's goals can be further causes of disillusion.

I think that expressing the rate of student improvement - which can easily outstrip the improvement of world class researchers, simply by virtue of the different starting points - could help to offset the problem for some students. It is entirely feasible that after a one year course a student could produce work with similarities to that of leading researchers, even if actually reaching them may take longer.

There are several difficulties communicating the aims to students. The first is promoting the idea that a Master's course is more about training than new applied research. The second is promoting the idea that initial training will benefit them more and quicker than immediate research. The third is finding a measure of quality which will capture improvements without initially discouraging students through its low level.

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