I am wrapping up my first year and recently faced the most difficult decision of my time here. Of course, there have been easy decisions and hard decisions all year, but they were all things that I expected from deciding to fail a smart student who turns in no homework to how do I respond to the top student who is still worried about passing despite having a 99.4% average. Many challenges arise in a given year, but last week I had to grapple with a tough one: how to tell a student that despite their academic strengths and interest in my research, I don’t have enough research positions in the lab this summer.
To elaborate, I have funding for three summer students. Two have committed and there are two more who are very interested. I have to choose between two students who are both sophomores, both do well in class (almost identical scores), both have recently declared as physics majors; who do I turn away? I realized that out of respect for their summer plans, I needed to decide quickly to give them a chance to find something else. Telling a deserving student that they can’t participate in research is not something I’m good at, but I guess it is part of our “current economic climate.”
I can always hope for unlimited funding in the future, and perhaps avoid the same situation. I’m very glad that I didn’t have trouble finding good students, but I would love to give everyone an opportunity to participate in research. It was such a pivotal experience for me, I hate to turn people away for silly reasons like money. With that, I’ll toast to an increased budget at NSF and the hope for increased opportunities for students; after all, they are the reason I’m here.