The comments on the previous post about summer internship programs for undergraduate science majors raise interesting issues:
Typically, REU* students come from universities/colleges other than one's own -- how do you balance working with REU students and working with students from your own institution?
(* REU = Research Experiences for Undergraduates)
Ideally, of course, you work with both, if you have the time and resources to do so. I like having undergraduates from my own institution working with my research group. These are the students we know and love, and I think we also have a responsibility to give our students as interesting an educational experience as we possibly can -- for some students, that involves working with their professors on research projects. In addition, there is a continuous supply of talented and motivated students who are interested in getting some research experience, either for academic credit or for pay. If you start working with students before their senior year starts, they can be involved in more in-depth research projects than is possible in a summer internship. Right now, I've got 3 undergrads working with my group.
Summer interns work on a very focused project for a short amount of time. This limits what you can do, but it is possible to accomplish something interesting and possibly significant in a summer; some of my summer interns have co-authored papers with me based largely on their summer research projects. In addition, some REU students continue their summer projects once they are back at their home institution. Several of my REU summer students have done this very successfully, presented their results at national meetings, and had their choice of graduate schools.
A large number of our REU applicants come from small liberal arts schools. These students want to experience a big research university to see what it's like, and I think it is important that they have such opportunities.
Funding agencies seem to be losing track of the most important aspects of the internship programs.
I don't mean to disparage the importance of learning to work collaboratively and travel around in a herd of science students all wearing the same T-shirts, but I think that the intellectual content of the research programs is the most important element. If a program has a demonstrated record of providing an excellent experience for students, that should count for a lot. We came close to losing our program because the funding agency wasn't sure if we were providing enough of a 'cohort experience' for the interns. Cohort experiences are apparently favored over students being locked in isolated basement labs with analytical equipment that makes strange humming sounds. I don't get that. OK, I do, but..
Grad students and postdocs end up doing a lot of the advising.
This is certainly the case in some instances. I don't think any grad student or postdoc should have to advise an undergraduate if they don't want to and if it is not specifically a part of their job as a research assistant or postdoc. Some grad students and postdocs want to advise or help advise students, and I think they should be given the opportunity to do so, provided that the project is reasonable and so on. I know of quite a few cases in which this advising/mentoring experience was important when the grad students/postdocs were later considered for faculty positions.
Involving undergrads in research -- whether in the summer or during the academic year -- is a very good thing. It does not always work out -- I have had my share of negative experiences working with dysfunctional and/or annoying students (who no doubt would say similar things about me) -- but when it works well, it's great.
8 years ago