For […] summer internship, I think the best way is for the trainee to be part of a real and impactful project. I have come to conclude that this is the best motivation dose, guiding trainees towards a self-motivation, self-learning path into their career, whether of a high school teacher, of a graduate, or of an undergraduate. In the world of the Internet that we are living in, technical details can be easily obtained and trained (and trainees learn them anyway in a formal classroom). The same exact environment that makes self-discipline, self-motivation, and focusing become rare commodities. Therefore, I design the research projects for trainees so that they can become self-motivated.
The most effective way to achieve such personal development, throughout my various experiences, is to put their work in a bigger picture, that their effort is a part of something bigger than a summer project. It is the kind of thinking I learnt from the story of a janitor at NASA who rightly believes that his work contributes to putting humans on the Moon.
In academia, with our limited power, the shortest way to put one’s contribution to a greater good is through publications. A publication, if passed through the scrutiny of its reviewers, will bring a new piece of knowledge to the world, something that has never been done before, something new and creative. In many ways the publication system has been corrupted, but it has prevailed because there are some good things in it. As of now, it is the only reliable way to communicate ideas.
I break my projects down into digestible portions, given after careful consideration to trainees, then constantly checking on them, reminding them of the big picture, and providing them self-learning techniques. Through some experiences, I have been learning to read students well to give them appropriate tasks. Once they are motivated to learn, they usually surprise me on how quickly they become good, and the ones who stay for summer projects usually come with a certain “hunger”. There is no better feeling for them, as I see it, as their efforts are useful. I believe this is the best way I can organize a summer project and have been practicing it since I arrived at UCSB.
Evidently, education is best if adaptive and personal. There should be as many training and teaching techniques as there are many students out there. My philosophy is just one of them. For me, this has been working more and less and has given me many times the feeling of fulfillment.