How To: Use your Status Checks Effectively

As you move on to the main project phase of the semester, you’re asked to give a status check to your mentor. These status checks ask you to answer three questions:

  • What progress has been made in the past week?
  • What challenges have been encountered in the past week?
  • Do you have any new expectations that your final project will differ from what was described in your proposal?

The status checks are one of our class’s three “pillars of consistency” that we use to guarantee that even with drastically different projects, every student has the same pathway to success: resubmit assignments, get agreement on your proposal, and use your status checks correctly.

What does it mean to “use your status checks correctly”, though?

What It Does Not Mean

There’s a tendency to look at status checks as an explicitly graded portion of your project, as if they’re the proxy we use to grade your progress week by week. They are graded, but they’re graded on whether you do them, not what you have to report in them.

What that means is you should not try to oversell your progress in your status check. All that does is set a higher-than-reasonable level of expectation for the next milestone. Report your progress accurately. If you didn’t accomplish anything during that week, that’s okay to report on the status check — that alone will not hurt you. What will hurt is if you don’t meet the expectations of your original proposal, but that has nothing to do with whether or not you accurately report your progress week to week: so, be honest, be accurate. The only purpose of the status checks is to keep your mentor in the loop, not to allow them to grade the loop.

What It Does Mean

When you propose your project, there are always some unknowns. There are tasks that you think will take 10 hours that take 20. There are datasets you’ll think you can access that you can’t. Things will go wrong.

We tell you that if you fulfill what you set out to do in your proposal, you get an A on the project: so does that mean when these things go wrong, you no longer get an A? Absolutely not: as your project goes on, expectations can adjust based on new information.

But the important thing is that this adjustment occurs with your mentor. Your shared expectations change together based on new information. In order to do that, your mentor needs to understand what’s going on. Your status checks are the foundation for these adjustments.

What that means is that if you oversell or exaggerate your progress on a status check, you’re only hurting yourself: now your mentor is expecting things that you may not be able to deliver on. I’ve looked back, and the majority of people that receive less than an A on the project fell into one of three camps:

  • They skipped their status checks altogether, then their final project was way different than what their proposal said it would be. Because their mentor was unaware of their progress, they were not able to come to a shared understanding of new goals and outcomes.
  • They lied on their status checks, and the mentor found that their final deliverable lacked things that they said were already there. Similarly, if their mentor had known the expectations had changed, there might have been some room for adjustment. That doesn’t exist, though, when the mentor thinks everything is going well until it clearly it isn’t.
  • They gave accurate status checks, but they did not come to a shared understanding of new expectations. This is a trickier one because we don’t really have a formal “expectations are different” process, but your mentor will generally make it clear if the changes to your expectations aren’t acceptable. If you’ve reported some challenges or some need to change expectations, make sure to read what your mentor says in return carefully.

Put simply, your mentor is a mentor first, grader second. Give them the information they need to be a good, helpful mentor, not the information you think will lead to you getting a better grade. Status checks are completion grades: even if you just report, “I did nothing this week”, you’re still keeping your mentor in the loop and you get credit for the status check — the milestones and project itself are the places where the content of what you did matters.