Make a spreadsheet with info on your lab undergrads!

If you are starting a faculty position, here’s something you can do that will make your life easier: start a spreadsheet with info on your undergrads.* My spreadsheet has a list by semester, which includes a list of all the undergrads who were working in the lab that semester. In addition, the spreadsheet has a section where I list each student in a separate row. In that section, I have columns for:

  1. each grant I have, where I can indicate if they worked on that grant
  2. whether they were part of an official university research program (UROP here at Michigan, PURA at Georgia Tech, possibly some other combination of letters at your institution)
  3. whether they did an honors thesis (ideally, you would have the title in here, too)
  4. whether they are a member of an underrepresented group
  5. whether they are a coauthor on an article in prep or in review
  6. whether they are a coauthor on a published article, and
  7. what they are currently doing (or what they were doing when I last was in touch).

This information is really, really useful when working on annual reports for grants, when working on new grant proposals (e.g., for the broader impacts section on an NSF grant), and when preparing department annual reports and tenure dossiers.

Some examples: When preparing a tenure dossier, I could say something like “on average, I’ve had four to five undergraduates in my lab each semester”. On grant proposals, I can say how many former undergrads in my lab are coauthors on publications. When going back to prepare a final report for a grant, I can easily tally how many students worked on that grant, how many were from underrepresented groups, and how many of them did an honors thesis related to that grant. And, when writing a letter of recommendation for a former lab undergrad, I can quickly pull up the exact semesters they were in the lab, info on their projects, etc. This is all really useful.

So, like I said, start a spreadsheet with info on your undergrads. It will be really, really useful.

Footnote: On twitter, Jason Venkiteswaran (@JJVenky) suggested also having permission forms required to use their names on grant applications, such as this NSERC form. This is a great idea, though I’ve never heard of such a permission form in the US. I never report student names in grant proposals, especially because I don’t think it’s appropriate to indicate info on demographics related to a particular student in a proposal. Instead, I just give aggregate info.

*After I tweeted about this last week, someone emailed me to point out that it can be useful to have a similar sheet for grad students. And others pointed out on twitter that this can be useful for lots of people other than just faculty.

5 thoughts on “Make a spreadsheet with info on your lab undergrads!

  1. I have undergrads (and others) on my CV at the end, entered by start year, with total years noted after they leave, and if they did an honor’s thesis etc. Your spreadsheet idea is great, since I do go back and look when I need to tabulate ethnicity etc. Also, I have a sheet where I copy verbatim the acknowledgements for each grant proposal so when I need to note what paper acknowledged what grant, it is all in one place. A spreadsheet might be better, but this also gets the job done.

  2. I suggest you also include a column for their ORCID iDs.

    For those not familiar, ORCID, a non-profit organisation, provides unique iDs for “researchers and contributors”, to disambiguate people with the same name; and unite the works of individuals who publish under more than one name.

  3. Excellent idea! I’ve been at my TT position for 2 years, and I was just starting to lose track. Like Joan, I was referring to my CV, but this is much better. Spreadsheet is now created. I will thank you again in a year or two!!!

  4. I do something similar for advising and manuscript reviews. The half hour to set up the spreadsheet and seconds used for updating are more than returned in the hours saved at CV time.

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