Stephen Turnbull


Mentoring: The Paper Chase

Submitted Sep 15, 2017

I will briefly talk about my experience mentoring for various organizations in Google Summer of Code and as a professor supervising thesis. Takeaways are some of the things I didn’t realize were important but really help students, mistakes that I’ve made (and could have avoided) that detracted from their experience (mostly) and performance, and advice for students for getting the most from a mentor. Then I will talk about PaperChase, an application that supports both student and mentor in planning and implementing a project, why it’s useful (and more useful than similar applications!), and how to use it.


  1. Speaker self-introduction. How I got involved in mentoring.
  2. Projects I have mentored for: GNU Mailman, Systers.
  3. Problems I have encountered, and how to mitigate them: (A) Planning is hard. First, the mentor needs to plan. Then the mentor needs to help the student plan. (B) Expectations differ. Talk about them! Then negotiate. (C) Life gets in the way. Getting A and B right really mitigates surprises.
  4. PaperChase: an application for planning a project, organizing the paperwork, and tracking progress. Having a form helps in learning to plan, doing the paperwork, and post-mortem analysis. Keeping a database of past plans and tracking data really improves future plans.

Speaker bio

Stephen is an economist who learned about character sets because he teaches in Japan where even today you encounter at least 6 different encodings for the same language. That allowed him to do a little work on Mailman I81N, which got him an invite to comment on PEP 263, and eventually drafted as a mentor for Mailman-based projects in several organizations. Author of SPAM.html, which provides useful advice in applying for internships in volunteer projects sponsored by organizations like GSoC. Automated checklists for this process was the initial impetus for the PaperChase application.



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