Questions about science research mentors

<p>Before I present my questions, I'd like to give you a background on my academics and my brief experience with science research. I'm a sophomore at a high school (ranked around 50th in the nation, doubt this matters) with a 3.948 GPA. Math and science are my best subjects, currently I'm taking AP Biology and Math 10 Honors which is basically trig and pre-calculus. Next year I will be taking AP Physics (and maybe AP Chemistry as well) and AP BC Calculus next yea This year I enrolled in our three year long science research program. We had to pick a topic of interest and mine was "graphene." For the past five months, the teacher has been making us summarize secondary, then primary articles. We also had to do a presentation for a primary article we read. Anyway this month, she's beginning to talk to us about contacting possible mentors.</p>

<p>What exactly is a mentor? Do they help you learn more about the topic? Do I help them work on their project or do I just observe? I have a general idea of graphene and how it is grown but when I read some articles, there is a lot of physics and electricity concepts and measurements that I don't understand. Do they expect you to know most of the things they write about? I really fell like I don't know enough. Also what kind of people should I contact? When I look at the authors of the articles I'm reading they all have PhDs and I feel like they'd see me as a waste of their time.</p>

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What exactly is a mentor? Do they help you learn more about the topic? Do I help them work on their project or do I just observe? I have a general idea of graphene and how it is grown but when I read some articles, there is a lot of physics and electricity concepts and measurements that I don't understand. Do they expect you to know most of the things they write about? I really fell like I don't know enough. Also what kind of people should I contact? When I look at the authors of the articles I'm reading they all have PhDs and I feel like they'd see me as a waste of their time.

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</p>

<p>All very good questions. Let's work through them one-by-one:</p>

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What exactly is a mentor?

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Well, it could be lots of things. For research, it could be a teacher who is supervising an independent project of yours. It could be a professor with whom you are working. It could be a grad student who is mentoring you in advanced topics.</p>

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Do they help you learn more about the topic?

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Ideally, yes. (I mean, they're not mentoring you in chess or anything unrelated ... hopefully.)</p>

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Do I help them work on their project or do I just observe?

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Well, you could arrange for the latter, but obviously the former is the more beneficial experience.</p>

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Do they expect you to know most of the things they write about?

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Oh heavens no. You'll learn those things as you go along. But you might be asked to do some reading for background, in which case you'll have to pretend to know what the papers are discussing :).</p>

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Also what kind of people should I contact?

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Depends on the actual project. If you have something specific in mind, ask a science teacher if the research can be conducted at school. Otherwise, email a couple of profs at a local university to see if they are willing to have a high schooler work with them - some might let you pick a project, some might ask you to work on their own project (or with a grad student), some might just make you a boring old lab assistant (but as you're a sophomore, that might be good preliminary experience, depending on your comfort level), and some might just say no.</p>

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When I look at the authors of the articles I'm reading they all have PhDs and I feel like they'd see me as a waste of their time.

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</p>

<p>A lot of profs think that even undergrads are a waste of their time. A lot of other profs are willing to work with high schoolers in their labs. You just need to contact a few. For help on this, see the thread at <a href="http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/summer-programs/1063234-how-apply-independent-research-internships.html%5B/url%5D"&gt;http://talk.collegeconfidential.com/summer-programs/1063234-how-apply-independent-research-internships.html&lt;/a&gt;.&lt;/p>

<p>Thanks for answering my questions, I understand this a lot better. I'm really relieved that you don't need to understand everything they're writing about.</p>