That's right, research is not solitary, at least most of the time. The toughest challenges in research actually involve managing interactions with other people, rather than solving technical difficulties. You don't even have to be in a supervisory role to relate to these situations. For example, suppose you are in a team of three people who are asked to put a presentation together. You did your part, but the others still have not submitted their materials the day before the deadline. Or, your boss asked you to supervise a less experienced graduate student but you were too busy to keep track of them and they destroyed valuable samples or damaged an instrument. Who is responsible?
Most graduate students admit that they were unprepared for the challenges of people management. While supervising can seem like a nuisance, getting some experience in graduate school will be very valuable for your career. Whether you stay in academia (and have to motivate graduate students) or go to industry (and participate in or lead teams), you will need to interact with people from different backgrounds and levels of experience.
When I was a graduate student I supervised a few college students, and I enjoyed mentoring very much. In order to supervise someone, I had to get organized and learn the material even better. I had run a few experiments with a certain toxic compound, and we got reproducible results consistently. Naturally, the higher the dose the more cells died. Then, one day my results became the exact opposite. Now, the higher the dose, the fewer cells died. I repeated the experiment several times, and the results were still "backwards". Did we just discover a protective effect of this toxic compound? This result was so surprising that my supervisor was ready to design a new study to investigate this phenomenon. Then, one day I found the answer, and it was not pretty. I was quite ashamed to tell my supervisor. I told him that I had been using the batch of the toxic compound prepared by one of my undergraduates, and the concentrations on the tubes were backwards. My supervisor was actually relieved and said: "Dora, I think you just learned one of the most valuable lessons in graduate school."
If you ever mentor undergraduates, remember that that's all it is: mentoring. They do not work for you and in the end the project is your responsibility. You always need to double-check their work and follow their progress closely. Naturally, you cannot use such a micromanaging approach with everyone. You would not want your supervisor to double check your calculations every day when you were a 6th year student. One needs to adjust the level of management depending on the ability of the person working with with them. Of course, when your thesis is on the line, it is for your benefit to catch every mistake, and the sooner the better! (Let's just say that the time I spent on my funny experiment above was not trivial, and could have been used in more productive ways - vacation, perhaps?)
Wishing you the best,
Dora Farkas, PhD, Founder, PhDNet