I received some advice from an established biochemist via a friend in regards to the stress related to advising graduate students. See, of the new tasks in the past year, graduate advising has been the most stressful for me. I feel this weight of a person’s career in my hands. What if I pick the wrong problems? What if wreck their confidence?
But the advice lifted a weight off my shoulders: you are not responsible for your students, you are responsible to your students. You don’t have control over whether your students engross themselves in their work, whether they read papers beyond the ones you explicitly say to “read this”, whether they will really focus on their research – you can’t be expected to be responsible for this. However, you can read and edit their writing, suggest papers and books to read, introduce them to your colleagues, teach them.
It was a simple change in propositions, but it made a big difference for me.
On a somewhat related note, I’m planning on taking up Matt Welsh’s advice on evaluating grad students. He advocates setting goals on a quarterly basis and remarking on how well those goals were met. I think this will work well for concrete items such as writing up a paper for which proofs have already been established and completing qualifiers, but how should we set goals for work that may or may not be possible (ie. “settle this conjecture”)?