Advice to new students
Recently, a 2nd year graduate student in the department asked for my one piece of survival advice and without hesitation, I responded simply "Perseverance!". You can also call it "determination", "tenacity", the recently popular term "grit", and some may call it "stubbornness"; however you term it, you know what it is. It is that somewhat large rock that rolls around in the bottom of your stomach when things just do not seem to go right, and forces you or reminds you to never give up. This trait, or "grit", has actually been a recent topic of conversation for those in education. As educators, and hopefully as students, we understand that success in college is largely dependent on both self-discipline, dedication, determination, and yes, grit. But how can we teach "grit"... and how can we measure "grit"?... If this is one of the most important tools with which to equip my students, how is it possible? Let them fail.. over and over and over? Inundate them with work work work? Demonstrate the value of what they are doing even if those around them are saying "just give up!"??? How can i do these things without them throwing their hands up in the air in despair and walking away? Easy. Let them partake in research.
An authentic research project, one in which the student is passionate and has a stake in, where the student had a part in developing, implementing and disseminating the project, can allow us as educators to "teach" grit. In research the student, if he or she feels a personal or professional stake in the project, will work tirelessly despite failures and obstacles to complete and answer the research question successfully. Often times, that answer is complicated, and more questions than answers tend to arise, but always the student is proud! Proud of his or her accomplishment, and instead of being nervous or afraid of presenting their work, he or she is excited and anxious; ready to answer questions and receive feedback from faculty and peers.
Always more questions...
Even though research is a great tool for teaching students "grit"... we still have trouble measuring it. Sure we can say "Sally never gave up" or "Tom just kept at it till he figured it out", but at this moment, I don't think there are any quantitative measures for "grit". And it may not have quantitative levels. It may just be a "pass/fail" attribute, but surely everyone has their limits. I may make a great Chemistry Professor, and I may have survived graduate school, but I do not think I have the mental or physical perseverance and dedication to be a Navy Seal. Also, can we give each and every student that comes through our department their own authentic research experience? How do we reach those students? Internships? Work study? I don't know these answers yet. However, I am thankful to be an instructor within the STEM disciplines, that I do have "research" as a tool for instruction, to help me prepare young scientists who are dedicated and stubborn!
Here's to the future, whatever it may hold, I will face it with pure GRIT!