With Kim Yu-Na becoming an Olympic champion, the whole country is focused on her gold medal. She certainly is an extraordinarily gifted and hard-working young woman and deserves all the credit and more. However, as an educator, I cannot help but wonder how her coach brought out the best in her. Is it by giving encouraging words? Is it constant tips, techniques, demonstrations of the skating skills? Is it genuine love and care? Is it about setting high expectations, realistic goals, and everyday reminders of the goals and expectations?

During the Olympics, Yuna’s coach and Mao’s coach, their faces showed different emotions. I think that it was not just because of the differences in Yuna and Mao’s performances at the Olympics. I think their faces reflected the very different styles of coaching.

As for me, my biggest concern is finding my coaching style. Research is hard, but advising students is much much harder.

It is also much more rewarding.

In fact, when I was a PhD student, I did not think much about a career in academia. I somehow stumbled upon this profession, but now I am very glad that I am a professor in a research-oriented university with many opportunities to advise graduate students.

For the most part, the results of our research do not make big impacts in the real world, but advising students can and do make big differences.

I try to talk to other faculty to get advice on advising students. But there seems to be no right answer. Every student is different, every advisor is different, and every interaction is different. There seems to be no way to get a training set and expect it will be from the same distribution as the testing set. Nevertheless, learning must occur. How???

Fortunately, we have intelligence that does not rely solely on statistics. You just take on each interaction with each  student, try the best you can, and hope to get some positive results.

And with experience, I hope, I will get better with those interactions. I am not sure, though, whether I will ever feel qualified to be their role model. For that, I will have to try harder. Anyway, for now, every day is a struggle just to make sure I do not make unrecoverable mistakes.

Of course, I enjoy it immensely!

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