I was asked to supervise a team of undergrad students who are taking part in a case competition.

I decided to look through the competition website to find out more about what is expected of a faculty advisor. The website writes:

The primary role of the faculty advisor is to provide direction, advice and guidance to the student team. The faculty advisor should not contribute to the content of the presentation, nor should they provide or facilitate the assistance from other parties that contribute to the content of presentation.

How do I walk the fine line between "providing direction, advice and guidance", and yet "not contributing to the content of the presentation"?

(This is my first time helping a student team with a competition, so I would appreciate the advice of other faculty who have done this before.)


The German project Jugend hackt (= youth hacks) has a very similar approach. Mentors shall only support and provide advice and guidance but not contribute to the coding projects of the participants.

In practice this means, that you assist them by finding their topic/project by chairing the process and giving advice when you think the project might be too complex, out of scope or could not be finished within the given time period. If they nevertheless decide to go for a project which you think might fail, that's fine.

During the project, only help the students when they ask for assistance, you think that their time schedule will fail or you discovered a major problem the participants didn't figure out for themselves after an appropriate time period.

Regarding Jugend hackt, the most important rule for the mentors is: "Never ever touch the keyboard of a participant." It's up to them to do everything, correct their mistakes and to learn by experience. Maybe you can transfer this rule to being a supervisor in a students competition: "Never ever touch their keyboard/equipment/labware/texts."


I have only worked as a TA to help students on an individual exercise basis, but I think the idea is kind of similar to this. In the case of a competition like this I can only speak from my role as being supervised. However, I would say that the most important thing is to ask questions, such as "Why do you think that step X that you propose here would be a good step?" or "What results do you expect by doing this thing Y you're doing?". This should make them think about what they are doing in this competition and why they are doing it.

Regarding the presentation, you can of course always give them advice about how to present, how to style their slides, and how to convey the information they are presenting in an efficient way.

All in all, with most things you help them with, just ask yourself if you're telling them how to do it. If not, you're probably fine I guess.

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