This year I was the admin for the GSOC projects of the SciRuby foundation. It’s also the first time I mentored a student, having been a student myself last year. Being a mentor is pretty tough task, and for some reason is underestimated by many. I was lucky to have the experience and support of co-admins @mohawkjohn and @pjotrp throughout the GSOC period.
GSOC has now come to a close. I have learned a great deal myself in the past 3 months, and thought I would share some of my learnings in this blog post in the interest of future GSOC students and mentors.
Advice for future students
Writing a proposal
Research your ideas at least for a day before asking your first question. Mentors are volunteers and it’s important to respect the time and effort that they’re putting into FOSS. When you do propose an idea, you should also have a good knowledge of why you’re working on that idea in the first place and what kind of long term impact the realization of that idea can have. Putting this across through your proposal can have a positive on your selection. Know how to ask questions on mailing lists. A properly researched question should show that you have first taken an effort to understand the topic and are asking the question only because you got stuck somewhere.
Make sure you figure out what exactly you have to research and learn during the community bonding phase. There’s a lot of things out there that can be learned, but only a few specific things will helpful for your project. Focus on them only. Ask specific questions to your mentor.
Setup a daily schedule for coding and stick to it. Constantly keep in touch with your mentor and make sure they know your progress as well as you do. If you run into previously unseen problems (frequent in programming), tell mentor about this ASAP and work out a solution together.
Don’t burn yourself out in your enthusiasm. Take regular breaks. Overworking does more harm than good.
Advice for future mentors
Short story: If you’re unsure about a student, don’t select him. It’s better to have a more quality than quantity.
Long story: First and foremost, it is very important to establish some organization-wide procedure that will be followed when selecting a student. As a start, consider making a proposal template that contains all the information and details that the student needs to fill up when submitting the proposal. Have a look at the SciRuby application template as an example.
When students start asking questions on the mailing list, it is important for the org admins to keep a watch on students and get a rough idea of who asks the better questions and who don’t. Community participation is a great measure of understanding whether a student will live upto your expectations or not. A proposal with a bad first draft might just turn out to be great simply because the student is open to feedback and is willing to put it in the effort to work on it.
We have 3 rounds: First round every mentor rates their own student only. In the next round all mentors rate all students (students without a mentor and bad proposals drop off).
In each case when rating a student. mentors put in a comment, making sure to tell how a student has interacted in the proposal phase, what his current coding looks like, how responsive he is. Mentors can still push their students to do stuff. We like it when students keep responsive in this phase.
In the 3rd round the org admins make the final ranking to set the number of slots. By this stage we are pretty clear about the individuals involved (and note that mentor activity counts). When Google allocates the slots the top-ranked students get in.
Make sure you communicate with your student that they are supposed to send you daily updates of their progress. One paragraph about their work that particular day should suffice.