Hobart and William Smith Colleges - A New Kind of Mentoring in Atmospheric Science
The HWS Update

A New Kind of Mentoring in Atmospheric Science

During the summer research program at HWS, Professor of Geoscience Neil Laird and Associate Professor of Geoscience Nick Metz take a novel approach to student mentoring that reflects “real world” scientific collaboration and yields more substantial progress and increased academic support. In a new article in Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, Laird and Metz share the “pair-researching” approach they have used in atmospheric science research with their students, as well as the challenges, benefits and student perspectives that have come from using the approach.

Commonly, undergraduate students in the atmospheric sciences are each paired with one or more research mentors “who are typically faculty, postdoctoral researchers or graduate students,” Laird and Metz write in “A Pair-Researching Approach for Undergraduate Atmospheric Science Researchers.”

Their “alternative pedagogic approach … constructs a student-student-mentor group” that “has been used with success since 2005 while conducting research” during the HWS summer research program.

They have found over the years that the pair-researching approach “more effectively provides an environment that supports students involved in a research experience early in their undergraduate studies, such as following their first or second year.”

The article highlights the logistics of “pair-researching,” in which the students “typically spend the first several weeks working together on a paired project in collaboration with their mentor” before each student in the pairing pursues an individual topic “addressing an original research question that builds upon the paired early summer collaborative effort. This individual portion of the research experience for each undergraduate occurs while maintaining a close partnership with their mentor and the other undergraduate researcher in their pairing.”

This process, Laird and Metz found, has benefits of “building confidence and decision-making ability,” as well as “producing high quality results in less time” and “leading to students being highly satisfied with their research experience.”

The students and alums who Laird and Metz surveyed for the article provided great insight. One student commented, “I really appreciated the unique partner approach that was implemented. This was my first internship and the largest research project I had yet to undertake during my education so it’s reasonable to say that my confidence in myself as a ‘scientist’ was underdeveloped. Being able to discuss ideas with my partner not only boosted my confidence but encouraged me to pursue different ideas during our research.”

Based on their experience using both the pair-researching approach and the one-on-one student-mentor approach to conduct research with students, Laird and Metz concluded that while both have produced positive research outcomes for students, pair-researching “replicates the collaborative nature of conducting a scientific investigation, develops a strong peer-to-peer supportive partnership and allows [undergraduates] to advance more rapidly on their research compared to working in isolation during a one-on-one experience with their research mentor.”