Best Approaches to Work-Study Student Management?
June 20, 2007 11:27 AM   Subscribe

How best to manage work-study students? If you were a work-study student, how did you like to be managed?

So in my new job, I'll be in charge of 20+ work-study students at a medium-sized academic library. While I have supervisory experience with full-time and part-time employees, I don't have much with work-study undergraduate students.

While I have access to the standard library How To materials that lay out the Dos and Don'ts of student supervision, I'd really like to get a handle on the wants/needs/opinions of the work-study student themselves.

So if you were a work-study student, how did you prefer to be supervised? How much effort did you put in? How much did you slack off?

And if you've supervised students before, any anecdotes or tips/tricks not likely seen in Official Literature are more than welcome.

posted by robocop is bleeding to Work & Money (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Generally in work-study, I had some tasks that required skills/application/concentration for the first hour or so of my shift. Then for the second-third hours, it was more answering other people's questions, doing small errands, getting some minor reading done while waiting for questions or doing some rote brainless tasks. This mix worked well for me.

I put more effort in whenever I had an opportunity to learn something new. But, if it was all new it got overwhelming due to my heavy course workload.

It would have been nice if I could at times reschedule a 30-min portion of my shift to go to professor office hours (as my shifts were during most office hours).
posted by ejaned8 at 11:41 AM on June 20, 2007

I work at a local computer company during the day as a helpdesk/on-site support and go to school at night to get my degree.

In the morning, I like to get all my given tasks done as quickly as possible. So after I am finished I could have time for myself to study or do whatever. It helps out a lot when I have a clear idea of what is required of me for that day. As long I know, I can plan and manage my day and everyone can be happy.

It's really annoying when management comes down at the most random time and complain about me sitting around...
posted by rocfob at 11:46 AM on June 20, 2007

I am a work study student, and I worked as an aide in an academic library for a year.

1. Try to work on a project-based level rather than a time-based one. In other words, don't expect your students to look busy all the time, yell at them for slacking off, and so on, if there isn't anything better for them to do. With your level of coverage (20?! I was alone!), they will constantly be underworked--and work-study jobs are more or less designed as "study time" anyway, whatever the contract might say.

2. If there is something for them to do, do not let them get away with not doing it. Communicate the sense that the only reason you tolerate them slacking off during downtime is that when there is work, it is done in a quick, efficient, professional manner. Then again, basic journal shelving is really not all that difficult to do well, not even for mildly brain-damaged underclassmen.

3. If you assign a task with some level of specialization, make it clear to them why the task is being performed and what kind of expectations there are (if you're scanning a document for electronic reserve, it has to be clear and readable and properly uploaded; if you're shredding old circ records, it doesn't matter all that much if the strips are even). For the first few months, exercise strict QC over scanning and photocopying, since these can be hard to do well for a beginner.

4. Try not to notice if they are high or hung over, unless it impairs their work in any way or puts you at any kind of risk.

5. If you care--they'll try to cancel their friends' library fees, let people leave without checking out their books, forget to re-magnetize books they check in, and so on. If this is an issue, watch them closely for the first few months.
posted by nasreddin at 11:51 AM on June 20, 2007

I don't have a work-study, but I am an undergraduate student with a job at the library. One of the best parts about it is that the supervisor accepts that our task is tedious and requires little thought (scanning historical documents and images) so we are free to multitask and work on papers, surf the internet, and listen to music while we work.

We also have very flexible work schedules -- any time the library is open, whether the supervisor is there or not (i.e. evenings and weekends). Because of these two things, work never interfered with my studies.
posted by puffin at 11:55 AM on June 20, 2007

How much work do you actually need these students to do? On every campus there are some work-study jobs that are assumed to consist of sitting at a desk and doing your homework. If some of these jobs are thought of that way (often the case with at least some of the library jobs), you may encounter some resistance if you start expecting a lot of work to get done. You could ramp up your expectations slowly rather than coming in with a lot of work to do, but this might be the wrong strategy – perhaps it's better to make a clean break with the previous supervisor, be demanding, and let students look elsewhere for make-work jobs.

I concur that allowing shift-swapping and rescheduling, whenever possible, will help students a lot and make them happier. But you don't want to be the one coordinating this on a day-to-day basis. The usual solution here, and one I recommend, is to appoint a somewhat more experienced and responsible work-study student as the supervisor/coordinator who is in charge of scheduling and makes sure that every shift is filled by someone. Twenty student workers is more than a large enough group to justify this approach.

Off the books, sometimes, you can be a little more flexible about pay than you might think, e.g. by allowing a student to report some extra hours that they didn't actually work in exchange for carrying out some big task. If you need to bribe an especially efficient student to keep working for you, this sometimes works.
posted by RogerB at 11:59 AM on June 20, 2007

I worked hard as a student, but I wasn't very familiar with workplace expectations, so a lot of my work went unnoticed while, for instance, my inappropriate footware gained much comment. In terms of supervision, I would recommend being upfront about expectations, while recognizing that things that might indicate a lack of dedication/care/respect in a seasoned worker may simply reflect inexperience in a student.
posted by carmen at 12:07 PM on June 20, 2007

You might check Google Scholar with some search terms. I suspect that work study students mostly want the same things as other employers. Sense of accomplishment pretty much tops the list every time. So, as I've said at just about every job except the one I currently hold, "How about a little less you're an idiot and a little more thanks for trying?"

They've studied this question with regard to gender, and men and women across professions make the same ranking when presented with a list of desirable job rewards. I would presume that this holds for ages.
posted by bilabial at 12:10 PM on June 20, 2007

When I managed work-study students (not at a library and about ten years ago), I found that we got along best if I sort of bribed them with time. That is, they would be willing to do a lot of work or come in at an undesirable time if, in exchange, I allowed them to study or do homework during downtime.

I had a colleague who was determined that they work all the time, even if the work was not at all urgent or even necessary. So students generally wanted to work with me; many quit after I left that job.
posted by lackutrol at 12:11 PM on June 20, 2007

My work study job was like a real job -- constant work, no slacking opportunities, full responsibility for my performance. It related to my major, so it was totally worth it, and I learned a ton.

The one thing that bothered me was that my boss was such a stickler about me arriving exactly on time -- it meant I could never stay one minute after a class in order to ask a follow-up question if I had to be at work directly afterwards, and I'd have to leave to go to work even if the class was running over time. I thought it was unfair that I had to compromise my learning like this when students with more money didn't have to.

I think more ideal student management would be to schedule people so that you're always covered, in order to give people a 15-minute leeway when coming to work right after a class. You could require them to stay later or otherwise make up the time so that they don't abuse it. Or maybe schedule the shifts to start a half-hour after classes would have ended and end a half-hour before the next classes begin, so students have time to take care of business and eat.
posted by xo at 12:14 PM on June 20, 2007

As a former work-study student and work-study-schedule-tally-data-entry person, my only suggestion is, regardless of how much your work-study students are required / needed to work, have one binder or sign-in sheet for everyone that works there and insist that they sign in and out whenever they work, even if you just have them chill and study during their "work" hours.

Sorry I don't have ideas for what to have your work-study students do, but I know keeping organized will make everyone's lives easier (It certainly did in the case of my school, were students were expected to work x hours a month to stay in the program).
posted by Zephyrial at 12:15 PM on June 20, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far! The work-study students in question will be mostly working the circulation desk or shelving, so there may be downtime in store for them. If the work gets done, I really don't mind them doing homework or whatever at the desk.

But please, keep'em coming!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 12:26 PM on June 20, 2007

i've found in supervising students, a lot of it comes from the student themselves. when i was a work study student worker (in a billing office and a library), i liked the hands off approach my supervisors took with me. they let me know what i had to get done and by when, and i was able to direct a lot of it myself.

nothing was more frustrating than when one of my supervisors retired and their replacement tried to micromanage my tasks. i may not have been career staff, but i had been there for a couple of years and knew the system.

now i'm supervising a gaggle of work study students, and i've found that the laissez fair approach doesn't always work. some of the students like being able to choose what they do and when, and i can trust that they will be productive and not really slack off. some of the others seem to need constant direction, which i need to work on. it's important that everybody treats it like a real job. it's hard to give a good recommendation for somebody when i didn't see any actual work.

as far as being flexible with students and their changing schedules, it's important to be understanding but not a door mat. when i was a student, i always gave my bosses notice of being sick or asked to move my time around to accommodate office hours. as a supervisor i've had students miss every day a paper was due, not call in sick, and try to change their hours to go home earlier on a weekly basis. i was a lot more flexible before i got cancer. i make sure to take their class and extracurricular schedules into account when i make the semester schedule to make sure there's ample coverage. i also think it's good to have a fixed schedule, so people can plan more.
posted by kendrak at 12:32 PM on June 20, 2007

I am a soon-to-be senior in college who has been working at the library as a work study student for three years so far, so I think I have a fair amount of expirence.

Overall, my number one biggest problem with working at the library (which I really love to do) is that sometimes there isn't enough supervision. On our shifts, there are usually two student-workers and one supervisor present at the circulation desk, and our job is to manage patrons, re-shelve books, help with questions, clean up messes and that sort of thing. Recently, I've begun to hate going to work, because I always end up with the supervisor/2nd worker combo that doesn't do anything. I'm a motivated worker, so I like to get things done, but others want to take advantage of the (admittedly pretty casual) atomosphere in the library and do their homework, chat, use facebook, etc. I do homework too, but only when there is no work to do. Don't let the students push you around and whine that they have a paper to do tomorrow, so they can't do their job. So many times, people squirm out of doing their job because they say they have homework to do. If so, they should be calling off, not being paid to sit there while others do their jobs.

While I don't like to be told what to do, I would like it if the supervisors did a little more in the way of making sure that people finished re-shelving books before their shifts are done, or noticing when one of the workers is doing all the work, so they can step in and try to divide up the taks more fairly.

I agree, also, with having students sign in with their hours. It is good to be somewhat understanding if a person comes in 5 minutes late once in a while, but we have students who are continually 30+ minutes late, don't right it down on their time sheets, and then get paid as if they were there the whole time.

One thing that I really like about working at our library is how flexible the scheduling can be. We pick our hours at the beginning of the semester, and that's what we do every single week all semester, but we have a log where we can sign up if we need a sub because of a class obligation, a party, need for time off, or whatever. It is nice because (1) there is a large pool of back up if you need a day off (2) you can make a few extra bucks picking hours up for people.
posted by nuclear_soup at 12:37 PM on June 20, 2007

I was a work-study library guy for my senior year of college. I wish I could have done it all four years. It was a small,quiet math/physics library, and we had maybe 4-5 work-study students total.

We mostly just sat at the circulation desk and checked books in and out, shelved, tidied up, and occasionally ran copies of interlibrary loan documents. In addition, we also had sections of the stacks to "read", which meant going book by book to check for out of place books or journals. This was done on a casual basis, but we were expected to read our section of the stacks over the course of the semester.

I deliberately chose shifts where I would be the only one in the library (Sunday afternoons, weekday evenings) so that I could screw around on the internet and study, do assignments, etc.

As far as being managed, there wasn't much to it. Shifts were picked by seniority and we all had the same tasks and expectations. When I was there at the same time as the full time librarians (9-5ish) I wasn't able to blatantly screw around, but there was a lot of down time. We did a small amount of schedule swapping among the students, which was fine as long as we let the librarian know ahead of time and it didn't leave a gap where the desk was unmanned.

Consider that your students will be 10-15 minutes late from time to time and that they will screw around on the internet when left on their own. Some kids will probably just not show up without notice, and you'll have to decide how to handle that. If it's quiet and boring at times, it's probably good to have long term projects that can be worked on incrementally. Having a "here's how you handle these somewhat rare occurrences" sheet available would be helpful as well.
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 12:57 PM on June 20, 2007

I was a work-study student at our on-campus rec center. The suggestions so far are great. Here's how our work-study shifts were organized:

1) If there are certain tasks that need to be completed once per day or once per week, assign each task to one or two shifts (for example: morning: shelve books from yesterday; afternoon, scan periodicals), and have the students sign off that they completed them (so you can hold someone accountable if the task isn't getting done). Similarly, we had tasks that were assigned every shift, as well. (all day: check in books).

2) Make your expectations clear to the students (have a beginning of the semester orientation and orient students whenever they're hired mid-semester). For example, make it clear that you don't mind them doing homework on their downtime, but that their first duty is to finish their assigned tasks, help the employees with whatever on-the-fly tasks they need, and help the patrons. Sometimes, I would put off working on a paper or assignment because I knew I'd have 2-4 hours to do it during my shift.

3) Develop a plan to deal with people who skip shifts or who have scheduling conflicts. At my job, the responsibility to find someone to cover a shift was on the employee, and there were punishments (reduction of shifts or getting fired) for missing too many shifts.
posted by muddgirl at 1:27 PM on June 20, 2007

One of the most important things is to make sure that the student's feel involved and part of the operation. As a student, I worked a couple of jobs where I didn't see my boses for weeks on end. It made it hard to feel part of the organization.

I'm hardly the most natural socializer, but I try to have at least a brief chat with each student every day. I try to understand what's woking for them, what isn't and what I need to do about it. It's also important no to micromanage, but in a quick 5 minutes with each student, we can talk about what they did today, what they'll do tomorrow and where they want their experience to go for this work term. Meeting for coffee or something is often a good way to handle this.

In addition to this, for the first few days to weeks (depending on the needs of the student), I'll make myself visible to the student's, "just happen to wander through their work area", but only interact if they want me to. Initially you might have to do this every hour, but you may find that by the end, you can go back to your normal routine.

Finally, know what to expect of the students and be prepared to handle small problems calmly. Don't expect a student to work at the level of a new hire. Initally, set the bar low. A bad student may only get the basic mechanicals down (if that sometimes). If a student does master something though, throw a harder task at them. Keep doing challenging them with harder tasks, all they can handle.

Busy students with challenging projects will normally engage better and have more fun than those kept on routine work. After they've mastered the basics, let them plan their own schedules, for example (check them in your daily 5-minute, but let them do the work).

It's important to know when to stop too. Don't overwhelm a student. If they can't manage something, if they start to flounder, you have a couple of choices: pull them off and keep them at a lower level of activity, or use them as a mentoring challenge for one of your more capable student's. Teaching how to teach is valuable too.

In any case, good luck. Teaching is one of the best parts of the job, in my opinion.
posted by bonehead at 1:48 PM on June 20, 2007

(Holy carp. Those grocer's apostophes are embarassing. Please ignore their horrible little intrusions).
posted by bonehead at 1:52 PM on June 20, 2007

In my own experience as a student, work-study students aren't any different from any other student employees, they just get paid out of a different account, and my supervisors when I had work-study didn't treat me any differently from how my supervisors when I didn't have work study did.

So my suggestion would be, treat your work-study kids the same way you'd treat any other student employees. It's not that they're somehow special, they just come from poor enough families that the government thinks they need to be employed and is willing to chip in to the cause.
posted by FlyingMonkey at 3:12 PM on June 20, 2007

Hm, apparently my comment was deleted. Let's try again:

Many of those kids don't want to be there anyway, and they probably signed up to work at the library because it is less miserable than the other options. (That was my case.) They don't really get paid enough and the work isn't interesting enough for them to take pride in it or whatever. They just want to get through. So if you can be kind and laid back, you will probably get more out of them than if you are a micromanaging busybody trying to catch them out: the only reason to work hard in that case for a lot of kids is "I like my boss." Don't create a situation where the motivation is "My boss is lame. What can I get away with?" Because then, even if the work gets done, it will be shoddy and everyone will be sad.
posted by dame at 7:25 AM on June 21, 2007

Let them do homework during downtime and be flexible with hours and time off.

I'll be honest. I did work study in college. It was a pain in the ass. You get paid minimum wage for the privilege of having a lot less time to study and enjoy college life than your richer friends have.
posted by Jess the Mess at 6:10 PM on June 21, 2007

As an observor and user of work study students, be prepared to cut off dead wood. You will probably have very good students and lazy ones who create more drama and trauma than warranted. The same management techniques of seeing who can handle independence and those who need very directed approach apply. Study time is acceptable BUT ONLY when it is clearly understood that there is legitimate down time.
posted by jadepearl at 12:26 PM on June 22, 2007

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