Thursday, 03 August 2017 09:26

5 Tips on Giving Student Researchers Useful Feedback

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Published in Teaching Microbiology
Photo: J. Alan Goggins Photo: J. Alan Goggins

Written by Shernita Lee, Ph.D.

Regular and useful feedback heightens students’ motivation and strengthens the mentor/mentee relationship; the yield from this relationship will have a lasting influence on the student’s future. Regular feedback also instills core values for members of your laboratory to apply to all aspects of their professional careers. Student researchers want to do their best and enhance their science and communication skills while working in the lab, and these 5 recommendations to improve the quality of feedback can help them get the most out of their experience.

1. Make your evaluation criteria known. Share the evaluation criteria with your students in advance so they can develop feasible and tangible goals.

2. Provide feedback regularly. Give feedback both formally and informally. Try to give feedback often enough that there is ample time for the student to make improvements.

3. Expand traditional criteria. Include other criteria like science communication skills, completion of practical online courses, conference attendance, and networking skills in your feedback. Reflect on your own laboratory experience and what factors you would have liked to have received feedback on.

4.  Balance constructive criticism with positive comments. Students need to learn how to receive constructive criticism. Shed light on any needed improvements in techniques and productivity and include learning moments from experimental failures. Don’t forget to recognize your students when they do great work.

5. Remember the larger goals. To keep students on track in their career advancement, project completion, and skills development, use tools like the Individualized Development Plan to help them monitor their progress towards their goals. These tools send regular updates. Data are important, but a lot more goes into a student’s experience as they prepare to enter the workforce. Frequency of feedback and advance knowledge of evaluation metrics can have a tremendous impact on their professional development and subsequent career goals. For students, recognized successes are rare, and encouragement inspires them to continue to aim for their educational and professional goals.

Do you have additional thoughts on feedback to students or suggestions to improve traditional performance evaluations? If so, please comment below.


Dr. Shernita Lee is an education programs and outreach specialist at the Biocomplexity Institute of Virginia Tech. She enjoys designing and implementing science programs to promote higher education, participating in student mentoring, and supporting diversity initiatives.


Bethany Adamec is a Science Education Specialist at ASM, where she communicates about ASM’s work in student and faculty professional development, supports the ASM Education Board, and works with colleagues to promote evidence-based education reform.