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I recently asked this question about how many office hours per week are common for undergraduate lecturers but then I just read this one about supervising research done by undergrads. This got me thinking that perhaps my previous question was going in the wrong direction.

I have >300 students in 3 different subjects. 200 of those students are in one subject and that subject requires students to do extensive research. My challenge (explained in the question linked above) is that I seem to have too little time to properly support this many students.

These are business students so there is no lab. The research is reading the literature, finding data, integrating the two into some meaningful insight.

So, my question is, when supervising undergraduate students who are doing research, how much time on average, per week, per student, should this consume of the supervisor's time? 15 minutes? 30 minutes? 1 hour?

Edit: To put this in perspective, the students are not writing a bachelor thesis. However, they are expected to put in about 100 hours of non-class time (after the class time has finished) doing their research and writing it up. The final product is about 4,000 - 5,00 words (so far less than a thesis).

  • Please clarify what the research entails. Is this on-hands research or a research paper built from citing sources on the web and from the library? – Compass Dec 17 '14 at 15:13
  • The research entails identifying a company (e.g., Exxon) and researching some key areas (which change every semester but one example could be climate change) that impact the company, finding relevant data and theories (from books, journal articles, etc.), integrating relevant data and company history in order to give some useful insight, recommend some action for the company, etc. – earthling Dec 17 '14 at 15:22
  • ..."to put in about 100 hours of non-class time (after the class time has finished) doing their research" Are everyone has the same assignment or they all deal with the same subject? – Alexandros Dec 17 '14 at 18:21
  • I guess it's obvious, but my answer in the linked previous question is really meant for when you have 2 or 3 undergrad research projects to advise, not 200. – xLeitix Dec 17 '14 at 22:22
  • @Alexandros Each student has the same key areas (though they usually have 4-5 areas and they must choose 2 of them so there is some variation) and each student has their own company. The subject is a final-year subject before graduation. – earthling Dec 18 '14 at 0:56
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One person cannot possibly supervise 200 undergraduate research projects per semester of any substance. This sounds more like a term paper with a research component than 200 fully-fledged research projects. When I did undergraduate research, it was a 20-hour per week job that I got paid for, and even then my supervisor and I rarely met for more than half an hour per week.

There are only 168 hours total in one week, and only 40 working hours in a week. If you spent your entire job meeting with all of the students every week, you could give them 12 minutes each. This is clearly impossible. 200 students is so many that giving them each a 30-minute kickoff meeting to discuss their initial idea at the beginning of the semester would take you two and a half weeks. This would put some students at a serious disadvantage over others by potentially delaying their project start or leaving them confused about what is required of them.

If these are not much more than a term paper, then one person can probably do this by putting the assignment together on paper or in email and only answering questions during normal office hours. These kinds of assignments have clearly articulated goals and guidelines and apply techniques as laid out in lectures and homeworks. If you want a more substantial, independent project, then you need TA support, at least 6 and as many as 20 TAs to cover 200 students.

  • Thanks for your answer. I'm not sure term-paper is appropriate for them but it is also not a full-blown research project. I've added some details to the question to clarify. – earthling Dec 17 '14 at 15:02
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    Based on your edit, I think my answer still stands. – Bill Barth Dec 17 '14 at 15:43
  • If I wanted to boil your answer down to one sentence, would it be fair to say "About 30 minutes per student per week?" – earthling Dec 18 '14 at 2:00
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    God no! That's 6000 minutes per week or 100 hours. There are only 168 hours total in a week. When would you sleep? That's 2.5 weeks of full-time work, per week! And that's just for the 200-student course. It doesn't even count the other 100 students. YOU CANNOT POSSIBLY DO THIS ALONE. – Bill Barth Dec 18 '14 at 2:06
  • My advice is to hand out a detailed assignment description and to be available in your usual required office hours at whatever the university requires for your teaching load. Do not set individual appointments for all the students. It's not possible. – Bill Barth Dec 18 '14 at 2:10
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I can relate how long I spend, in my own experience. My experience is in mathematics and computer science, which may be different from other fields.

  • When I wrote my PhD, I usually met with my advisor for about 1-2 hours each week, unless there was a special reason to have a second meeting.

  • I work at a department with a master's program. When supervising a master's thesis, I expect to meet with my advisee for about the same amount of time, about 1-2 hours a week, unless there is a reason to meet a second time.

  • Similarly, when I co-authored a paper with a strong undergraduate student last year, we met for about 2 hours a week for a semester and a half. Part of this was instruction by me about the area, and part of it was research meetings to engage with our problem.

  • When I advise an undergraduate "senior project", I set up a meeting for one hour per week with each student I advise. These projects are "research light" at my institution, and can even be expository for some students. But at least one senior projects I have supervised developed into a different co-authored paper, so some real research is done as well.

In every case, I expect the student to work for several hours between each of our meetings. When they are writing, I require them to send a draft at least s day before we meet, so I can review it. When they are writing computer code, I also require them to send that a day before we meet as well. This helps me keep the meetings productive - we can talk about challenges they have encountered in the research, or about my feedback on their work, or about future plans, etc., with a minimal amount of wasted time during the meetings.

Each time I have a meeting with a student, I try to make a plan before it begins about what we will talk about. Of course, if the student has something more pressing to discuss, that takes precedence over my plans. But I try not to waste and meeting, because that leads to having to meet again that week or to slipping deadlines, both of which I want to avoid if possible.

Of course, you cannot possibly meet for one hour each week with 200 students. I find the even four personal meetings per week is more than enough to keep me occupied - both in terms of time and in terms of mental capacity. So you will need to find a way to economize, and give less personal attention. You might try organizing group peer review sessions.

Frankly, I am surprised you can even grade the 200 papers that are written - if you can manage 30 minutes per paper all day long that is still over 2 weeks of grading!

If you have any say at the department, you might propose having the students work in groups; 50 groups of 4 is much more appealing than 200 groups of 1, both for advising and for grading.

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