Confused at a higher level

The view from Carleton College's physics department

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Grad students and undergrad students

Posted by Arjendu on May 7, 2015


An undergrad student doing research with me goes away and comes back a week later with a result. I say ‘nice, let’s do the following with it’. And (s)he goes away and does that and comes back a week later, and we talk again, etc. And things move slowly towards a result and more slowly towards manuscript writing and even more slowly towards publication.

If this was a graduate student, then about the same progress happens in about a day rather than a week. That is, since undergraduate students do research as something squeezed in beyond the classes they are taking, etc (rather than being the central thing they do, like for graduate students), 4-6 hours a week of effort is about standard for an undergrad, and about 4-6 hours of effort a day should be standard from a graduate student.

Whence we conclude that a day in grad student time == a week in undergraduate student time (independent of technical preparation, expertise, length of time a student stays with you compared to start-up time to understand what the project is about, etc); and hence the two years the undergraduate spends (about how much most of them spend with me) is about a semester or so of graduate student time.

This makes me a lot happier about the kind of progress my students have made over the years.

No happier about my own pace of production, though.


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