Skip to main content

Summer 2020 MAPs (#1038)

Topics/tags: Grinnell

Today is April 3. In one week, on April 10, the College will be making decisions about Summer MAPs (Mentored Advanced Projects). Not the normal decisions, such as who gets MAP funding, but the big picture decision of whether or not we offer Summer MAPs and, if so, how.

Summer MAPs and MIPs are incredibly important experiences for students. Almost every student I have supervised in a Summer MAP or MIP, and there have been a lot of them, has reported growing significantly from the experience of being able to work on a project full-time (forty or more hours per week) for ten weeks. During that intensive an experience, students get the opportunity to claim ownership of a project (or part of a project), to collaborate with others in building the project, to fail and learn from that failure, to explore the literature related to the project, and, we hope, to develop something that contributes to that literature. It’s a transformational experience.

Now, I won’t claim that it’s just the research that transforms students. I have a lot of students who grow from the associated co-curricular experiences, such as being responsible for cooking for themselves, having the time to do group meals with others, socializing at game night, playing Ultimate or other games outside, exploring Iowa City and Des Moines and other parts of Iowa, even taking team trips elsewhere. But the research is core to the experience.

The associated aspects of MAPs also make a difference to students, particularly the ability to present their work to others. My students have found particular value in presentations at research conferences (I appreciate the comments I receive that they are as poised and prepared as grad students) and, at times, at undergraduate research conferences, such as the Midstates Symposia [1].

How important are summer MAPs and MIPs? I often say that some of the most valuable teaching I do is in summer MAPs and MIPs. It’s when I say students discover just how much they can do. I’ve done summer MAPs and MIPs for no compensation and often take on extra students because I find them so valuable.

Summer MAPs and MIPs can also play an important role in faculty research. I will say I’ve had mixed experiences. There are some projects, like the Code Camps, that I could not have completed without my research students. There have also been some summers in which I would have moved my projects further forward if I had spent the same amount of time on research that I spent teaching and supervising my research students. But it’s worth my time in either case.

All of that leads into what I think about and what I hope for this coming summer.

I’ve seen the curves. The first peak is in late April, at the earliest. There’s almost no way that we’ll be able to let students back on campus this summer [2]. But that doesn’t mean that we should cancel summer MAPs. While remote MAPs are a different creature than in-person MAPs, they can still provide many of the benefits to students, particularly the experience of working full time on a research project over which they have some ownership.

In my discipline, computer science, remote work is common. I’ve spoken with many alumni who work in different cities (perhaps even different continents) than their collaborators. There are a host of tools that support such remote collaboration, whether synchronous or asynchronous. Many of my professional societies, such as the National Center for Women in Information Technology, are encouraging those who support summer opportunities to convert those to remote/virtual opportunities when possible.

Grinnell even has some implicit and explicit support for remote MAPs. Certainly, our efforts at running asynchronous remote classes suggest that we believe that there can be benefits from remote learning. We also have official policies and guidelines for remote MAPs which, admittedly, were designed for when students or faculty needed to do site-specific work. But that doesn’t mean we can’t adapt them to the situation at hand.

What happens if we cancel summer MAPs and MIPs? Some of the students signed up for summer MAPs and MIPs may be able to do MAPs or MIPs during the academic year. But part-time research is a very different experience than full-time research. And not all faculty will be able to support academic-year MAPs and MIPs. I know that I won’t [3]. The College also puts much stricter limits on the number of MAPs one can supervise during the semester.

What about pushing this summer’s research students to next summer? Rising seniors won’t be able to do MAPs next summer. And there may not be slots for both this year’s rising second-year and third-year students and next year’s. In CS, I think we were only able to offer positions to fewer than half of the students who applied; having to push this summer’s students to next summer would make the odds even lower. Grinnell has said that these kinds of research opportunities are core to our program [5]. We have some obligation to do our best offer such opportunities, provided they don’t put an inappropriate burden on students, faculty, staff, or the institution as a whole.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll permit remote MAPs and MIPs this summer. I’m also writing to the Dean about it. I hope you will, too.

Postscript: A few departments, such as Chemistry, require a significant research experience as part of the curriculum. Most students achieve those goals with MAPs. Some students achieve those goals with REUs, but I expect those will not be available this summer. I’m not sure you can do a remote Chemistry MAP. I wonder how my colleagues (and the College) plan to address these complex issues.

[1] Often, they are the only CS students presenting, so their audience may find the work of less interest.

[2] I think that means that we also shouldn’t force the students currently on campus to leave.

[3] I’ll be serving as Department Chair, teaching Tutorial, and developing at least one new course [4].

[4] HCI, which is new to me and has not been taught since Janet left.

[5] I recall the Dean’s office consuming dozens of hours of my time documenting research opportunities the last time I was chair.

Version 1.0 released 2020-04-03.

Version 1.0.1 of 2020-04-03.