Every summer, I hire 1-2 undergraduates to work in my lab. As I've mentioned countless times before, I really do enjoy working with undergrads. And since I owe my current career path to a stint as an undergraduate researcher in someone's lab, I look at it as my way of giving back to the field by training potential future grad students, who may one day go on to become professors, industrial researchers, or entrepeneurs.
This summer, I have 2 undergrad researchers. They are doing great work. They are smart, they pick things up extraordinarily quickly, and they are very hard workers. However, there is one problem: they are not at all self-motivated. I have to guide them through EVERYTHING. They are great when I tell them exactly what to do, but they are totally incapable of figuring out what to do on their own after they finish the task at hand. And they are not all that great in dealing with technical snafus or ambiguity.
Perhaps I've been really lucky in previous summers, but my previous students were much more self-motivated and much better equipped to deal with the ambiguities of research. The trade-off is that I tended to leave them alone much more than I should have, which meant that I didn't always have the clearest picture of what they were doing until after the fact. With this crew, I at least have a very clear picture of what they are doing--but that's because I am intimately involved in their work every step of the way.
As a professor and a PI, I know it is my job to help these students become more intellectually mature and to teach them what it means to "do" research. I'm sure I was not all that different from them when I started out. But doing this takes so much energy and time, and sometimes it's hard to remember (especially on days like today, when I didn't even sit down to do my own work until 4PM!) that the eventual payoff will be worth it--for me and, more importantly, for them. In the meantime, I will just keep pushing them to become more intellectually independent and to take on more responsibility in their projects.