Mentoring a student at the Institute

Our mentors are active scholars, scientists, or technologists who have a research project to propose to one of our interns, and are available to do a small bit of following them as they work on it. There is no restriction on what mentor and student decide to do, as long as it can be developed with free/open-source software tools.

We pay the interns to work full time on this project for 4 weeks in the summer. (Example: 2023 will be from July 10 to August 4.) Their skills are varied, but we have taught them all (a) linux command line, (b) python, (c) a programming editor, (d) a bit of LaTeX.

We have deliberately designed the mentor duty to be light. For example, there is no need to help our interns debug code: they get plenty of help from their cohort and from our Institute-wide chat rooms which involve interns from difference cities and volunteers. Students also benefit from on-site support, so there is no need to monitor their energy.

We have observed a whole spectrum of mentor involvement, from occasional interaction to frequent contact. In the former case the students learn more independence, and in the latter case they can learn more of the mentor’s specific technique – so in both cases it works well.

Topics that students have worked on come from a very broad range. We have seen projects in ecology, genetic sequence alignment, cognitive science, pure mathematics, physiology, linguistics, physics, digital humanities, art, music, electrical engineering, information technology, astrophysics, machine learning, DNA memory, cybersecurity, … And we would like to see even more academic areas! The project might involve modeling, data analysis, simulation, …

And we recommend that the project be close to the mentor’s area. Even if students come in with a strong feeling for what they want to work on, it’s often good for the mentor to have them work in an adjacent field – this way interns develop a unique combination of skills which is very important to position them for research and for college admissions. But… we are not part of the process: student and mentor figure it out together. Another thing to remember in the choice of project is that the student is not hiring a private tutor – they are paid to do research, and do need to work on the project the mentor finally guides them to.

Some time well before the start of the internship we introduce mentor and student with a brief videoconference. The mentor might propose a reading list for the student to get prepared and learn the background, and they could even settle on some project details ahead of time.

A typical week in the interaction might consist of the following: a videoconference once every week or two, and an exchange of email a couple of times/week. Student and mentor will usually converge on a rhythm, and there is quite a bit of variation: some mentors might follow more closely.

And remember: we are all researchers – the Institute is engaged in the lifelong research project of the best way to do transfer of know-how from mentors to interns. This means finding ways for busy mentors to work with students, without it having too much impact on the mentor.

Please contact Mark Galassi at – or call +1-505-629-0759 (voice only) if you might be able to propose a project to a student!