Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Driven Students

The title of this post is more literal than it might first appear because driven refers to driving a vehicle. This summer, some of my students are being driven by me.

For reasons that relate to complex logistics, lack of reasonable alternatives, and a temporary lack of sanity, I will be driving with my students (and a postdoc) as we visit some universities and other research sites in another country. Given our itinerary, time constraints, and number of people involved, it makes sense for me to rent a fuel-efficient diesel car and drive it to the places we need to go, even though some of the driving distances are semi-substantial.

It would be nice to share the driving, as I have in the past when traveling by car with students, but I have encountered a few stark issues:

- One student does not drive at all and has never had a driver's license.
- Another student does not know how to drive a manual transmission car, the type of car that we are renting.
- The postdoc seldom drives but theoretically could drive, although the country in which we will be driving has opposite traffic rules from what he is used to.

At first I was not happy about having to do so much of the driving (and no, public transportation is not an option). But then I thought: Would I really want to be a passenger in a car driven by one of the others? In the olden days, I didn't give it much thought, but as the age difference between my students and me widens, they seem so young to me. Some of them have been driving for < 10 years, whereas I have been driving for millions of years. Some of them have never driven in a foreign country or in an unfamiliar city. It might not be safe for anyone if they drove, even if they could drive the rental car.

So, I will do lots of driving -- like a soccer mom driving my kids to practice and matches? I don't know if that analogy is accurate, but I do know that when I am driving, I am going to control the radio/CD player in the car. If I choose the right music -- how about a trip down memory lane of the music I listened to in college and grad school? -- maybe that will inspire the others to acquire some driving skills and/or to become professors so they can drive their own students and/or to work only in places where public transportation can be used on research trips.

11 comments:

Sara said...

Another reason for not letting your students drive: just like some royal families had a history of patricide through the generations, perhaps your academic family is prone to advisorcide.

PhysioProf said...

Are we almost there?

HAHAHAHAHAHAH!

Anonymous said...

Ugh. I hate work-car-pools. I feel like I'm the only person who doesn't feel safe driving at 30 mph above the speed limit.

Good luck with the road trip!

Anonymous said...

In my research group a lot of driving is required for field studies, and this often required a 4WD. My PhD advisor does not know how to drive, so the driving almost always falls to me, PhD student. I am very confident of my driving skills, but I was still *very* nervous those first times. Even now (I'm very nearly finished), I get a bit unnerved while driving my advisor around on dangerous roads. However, so far so good. I think I'll feel a little more at ease when the 'balance of power' is a bit more equitable :)

sylow said...

Cute!

Lauren said...

At least there will be multiple passengers in the car. I picked up my advisor from the airport and drove him 1.5 hours back to the uni. This was really my first experience with him (it was at the end of the summer, like two weeks before I would officially start working for him). We didn't have much to talk about so he asked if I had some music and I pointed him to my CD case--completely forgetting about my old Backstreet Boys and Pocahontas sountrack CDs. Wow...that was embarrassing. Until about the last 1/3 of the trip, I was very much wishing there was a third party who might be able to add something to the conversation.

Azulao said...

Whew, make sure you make a rule that people are not allowed to wear aftershave, cologne, perfume, etc., but that they are expected to bathe every day! We just took a drive with a 21-yr old guy who *thought* he had purchased an appealing scent -- our eyes watered and we coughed the entire way.

Otherwise, have a great trip!

Ms.PhD said...

I hope you don't feel too much like a soccer mom doing this. To me, the benefits vastly outweigh the potential annoyance. And hopefully it will be good bonding time.

gio said...

Something is telling me you are in Europe in a non-English-speaking country. Mind you, I might be horribly wrong...

Anyway, did you ever think that for some of these students it might be too expensive to own a car(and therefore get much needed practice)? I do find that to be a significant issue for people in the "grad student income bracket"...

By the way, I really like your blog. And I find it great that you are driving your students around.

Shriram Krishnamurthi said...

Been there! That is a sometime-ritual in my group, though we tend to stay local. That does mean having to bundle everyone into a car at 6:30, say, to be at some other campus by 10am. Imagine coordinating that. But, you're dead on in your observations about preferring to drive and controlling the music! I am a bit generous: I tell each student they're welcome to bring one CD along, but I always retain the right to veto. (What're they going to do if I yank their CD? Get out and walk?)

Dr. Burt said...

Good analogies. Of course, as the graduate students mature they should take over more and more of the driving responsibilities on their own, until they are fully capable of being trusted with the keys. Unfortunately, the sad thing about graduate school is you usually have to leave just when things start getting interesting.

I guess at some point you will have to ask yourself what type of advisor you want to be. In the car every day, always looking over the shoulder? Or do you want to be the type of advisor that watches from afar, always giving the student just enough rope to hand themselves, ready to swoop in later to clean things up. (e.g. "grab the wheel")

I would suggest that you cannot truly train students to be independent workers and thinkers without giving them some control over their own "driving." I believe this might even include the hours they work, the projects they undertake, and the colleagues they collaborate with.