In research labs, senior members such as PI and team leaders face strong need of training new members. Particularly, training new graduate student members is an integral part of the research laboratory both for education and operational stability over time. However, this is one of the most difficult thing to perform in research labs, more than doing research itself.
As one of the most senior member of the current lab I stay (and founding member of the lab), I have trained several graduate students and still doing so. It is greatly time-consuming and cumbersome job, but I kindly agreed to do that as my role in this group is more or less a team leader, and such experience will be essentially beneficial for my near-future independence as a PI of my own lab. In my previous personal view, successful training for the new graduate students consists of three parts: i) helping them to settle down to the new lab both physically and mentally (e.g., assigning lab benches, office place, most basic protocols in the lab et al); ii) training them to perform their 1st research project until its successful publication or near-publication level as a mentor or senior investigator (most commonly by being co-lead author of the paper); iii) helping them to gradually shaping their own expertise and long-term goal in the lab for their remaining graduate study before leaving them to prosper themselves. These tasks look very basic but also dauntingly hard in practice. Unfortunately, my experience in the last couple of years has given more confusion and frustration than satisfaction, revealing the difficult nature of this job.
My first case was kind of good, as the student wrote two relatively decent papers with my guidance and help, and started to do own projects without involving me as a co-lead author after these two projects. However, this was not perfect example still as what I eventually helped was just writing few papers based on my expertise not helping the student to build own self-standing expertise in the group. Unfortunately, I was not helpful at all for this critical milestone for graduate study, leaving it behind as the student's own task to overcome. So, my first experience was half-success and gave more challenges to address.
Like most experiments or life itself, my second case was total failure. Similar to the first case, the student wrote one decent paper in a good journal based on my idea and training. However, the problem appeared as the student started to totally misunderstand the mentor-mentee relationship set during the training period. What I guess is that probably good journal publication might switch on something in the student's desire, which is actually pretty common in academia of all spectrum in ranks and positions. Unfortunately, I couldn't help but to terminate the whole training process, with bitter taste of disappointment. The student seemed aware of the problem but intentionally did so repeatedly, which infuriated me and eventually drove me to decided to let the student pay for the bad behavior in the harshest way.
Most recently, the third case is ongoing. With one half-success and one total failure, it is pretty cautious for me to decide how to do at this time. I got one important lesson from my two earlier cases. Graduate student training should not be dependent upon writing a decent paper, which can give very toxic influence and fail the entire training process itself. Hence, I realized that the graduate student training should more focus on training of skills and daily operations not a tangible outcome (like paper). With this corrected view, I now revised my view on successful training steps for new graduate students: i) helping them to settle down to the new lab both physically and mentally (e.g., assigning lab benches, office place, most basic protocols in the lab et al); ii) training them to get familiar with various skill sets and basic operations in the lab; iii) helping them to gradually shaping their own expertise and long-term goal in the lab for their remaining graduate study before leaving them to prosper themselves.
I will see whether this revised one works out better.