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Growing and Mentoring Your Research Group

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2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Baltimore , Maryland

Publication Date

June 25, 2023

Start Date

June 25, 2023

End Date

June 28, 2023

Conference Session

Faculty Development and Research Programs (NEE)

Tagged Division

New Engineering Educators Division (NEE)

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Paper Authors


Edward F. Gehringer North Carolina State University, Raleigh

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Dr. Gehringer is a professor in the Departments of Computer Science, and Electrical & Computer Engineering. His research interests include computerized assessment systems, and the use of natural-language processing to improve the quality of feedback to students.

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Matthias F. Stallmann North Carolina State University, Raleigh

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As engineering faculty, one of our core responsibilities is research. In today’s complex world, research is almost always done by teams. Managing a research group is not just a technical exercise; it also requires social skills. This paper explores some of the challenges and offers tips on how to meet them.

The first step is recruiting students. Experienced researchers know that the students who perform best in class are not necessarily the same ones who will excel at research. Initiative counts for more in research, as does the ability to address problems that are not well formed. Having found good students, you need to keep them. This means working with them to help them to progress, pushing them to do their best, but not frustrating them when they don’t achieve what you hoped they would.

In mentoring students, you need to make several decisions: How much guidance do you give students about research topics and how to pursue them? How much prior work should a student read before starting on their own project? What does a student need to know about setting up an experiment? How can you guide students on choosing publication venues? Who should be listed as co-authors on a paper? How can you help them make an effective research presentation?

As your students grow in research skills, you need to develop your leadership skills too. How do you build on your strengths? You should look for someone who can guide you. How can you find an effective mentor, perhaps a senior faculty member who can serve as a sounding board? As you work on building your own professional network, be attentive for opportunities to help your students build theirs.

Maintaining ethical research standards is crucial. New researchers often do not appreciate the limitations of their own work. Their tendency is to claim more than the evidence will support. How do you guide them to be transparent in their data collection and their experiment design? In a data-rich world, there are temptations, such as p-hacking, or looking at the results to derive the hypotheses.

It is important to build a supportive lab culture. It is good for students to feel invested in each other’s work. Celebrating important events can help, like birthdays, paper acceptances, and the passing of milestone exams. Planning is an important prerequisite for success. Five years from now, how large would you like the lab to be? How many graduate students would you like to be advising? How much funding would you like to have? Would you want to spend more or less time at work? How do you prioritize performing research that has an impact on the field or society more generally?

The authors of this paper are four faculty members in a College of Engineering who collectively have more than 100 years of experience in academia. They will share their insights and survey the perspectives of others on these important issues.

Gehringer, E. F., & Stallmann, M. F. (2023, June), Growing and Mentoring Your Research Group Paper presented at 2023 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Baltimore , Maryland. 10.18260/1-2--43836

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