Advanced Authentic Research

Mentoring High School Students in the Sciences

The culture that surrounds the student doing research often involves working as part of a team. Assessing your student in advance and helping him or her to acclimate as quickly as possible to your environment will set the stage for a constructive research experience.

Adapted from:

I. Orientation
Please use the first few meetings to discuss your potential project with the students. Consider relevant background literature and review techniques, including computer software. Make sure your student receives any necessary formal training in laboratory safety, in accordance with your department’s requirements. Develop a tentative schedule for completion of various aspects of the project, and discuss the hours your student is expected to maintain. Clearly explain the rules for keeping a laboratory notebook and other lab records. Outline your student’s role in lab meetings and any other required meetings or seminars. If necessary, explain the role of the graduate student or post-doctorate as mentor.  If a post-doctorate or senior graduate student is assigned to co-mentor and supervise the student, explain this. Make sure the student clearly understands the role of other individuals in the lab. The student should know to whom various questions should be addressed and ought to feel comfortable relying on a lab colleague for certain types of assistance. Be sensitive to cultural issues and misunderstandings that may occur between the research student and the post-doc or graduate student. Have the post-doc or graduate student become familiar with the philosophy and goals of the PAUSD Advanced Authentic Research (AAR) program by sharing this document.

II. Formulating a Research Question
Students may arrive with a specific research project in mind or they may simply have a broad interest in the field. You must help the student define a project that is realistic within the given time frame of the research program but will also allow the student to be introduced to the depth and breadth of the available literature.

It is essential that students are supplied materials to familiarize them with your field of research as well as your lab’s research goals and techniques prior to arrival or upon arrival. Continue to encourage them to read relevant materials that arise during the course of the project.

A student researcher by early December should have a clearly defined two to four page research proposal. The proposal should follow the guidelines from the AAR curriculum and be developed under supervision of the mentor. Students should submit the proposal to the AAR Coordinator for approval before they begin conducting the experiment and collecting data.     

The research proposal should include the following components:
1) Title
2) Research Question
3) Background and Significance
4) Research Methodology
5) Key References

Your student should conduct work that relates to a specific aim of the research goals of your lab.
Identify a project with a clearly definable goal and scope that can be reasonably attained within the time available. Whenever possible, include your student in the formulation of the underlying hypotheses and expected outcomes of the experiments. Make sure students are thoroughly trained in the appropriate set of techniques and understand their relevance of the techniques to the project. It is important that your student understands the project’s relevance to the broader scientific goals of the lab, as well as the lab’s overall contributions to its scientific field. This can be discussed in regular meetings with the student while reviewing his/her progress in the lab or the assigned literature. Do not assign a project that depends on a single technique, given the possibility that the technique may not work. You should anticipate alternate approaches or parts of the project to assign to your student in the event that he/she is unsuccessful with the original assignment. Considering alternatives in advance will help ensure that the student has a meaningful lab experience and relatively little “downtime.”

III. Asking Questions
It is essential that your student learns to ask questions to gain a better understanding of work conducted in your lab. Encourage your to student write down questions throughout the research process and share them with you as part of your regular discussions. We provide electronic journal system for the students. The journal or log will help him/her focus and will become a learning document to reflect upon.

Stress the importance of asking appropriate questions, particularly during critical periods, in order to move the research forward. Strive to create an atmosphere that makes a student feel empowered to ask questions, and reassure your student that it’s okay to ask all kinds of questions. Do not make him/her feel inferior while learning to formulate better questions. Remind the student that there is no such thing as a “bad” or “dumb” question, particularly in research! Do not hesitate to ask hard questions of your student but do not forget that he/she is still a novice in your discipline and may lack some basic academic preparation.

IV. Methodologies
Discuss various methods of investigation within your discipline with your student. Keep in mind that students with limited research experience may not be familiar with diverse methods of inquiry. Instructing a student in laboratory techniques should include an explanation of the techniques, not simply a demonstration. Ask students explicitly about research methods they may have used in the past and question them about their understanding of methods they will use.
Cite examples of the kinds of methods and techniques that can be used to address research questions.