What is mentoring?

In graduate school, mentoring relationships are closed, individualized relationships that develop between a graduate student and a faculty member who has a strong interest in the student’s educational and career goals. In addition to academic guidance, mentoring includes prolonged nurturing of a student’s personal, scholarly, and professional development. 

What’s the difference between advising and mentoring?

Advising focuses on the activities, requirements, and attainment of satisfactory progress through the steps needed to achieve a graduate degree.

Mentoring includes a constellation of activities — educational, interpersonal, and professional — that mean more than advising students on how to meet degree requirements. Mentoring helps students understand how their ambitions fit into graduate education, department life, and postgraduate career choices. Mentors offer wisdom, technical knowledge, assistance, support, empathy, and respect to graduate  students through, and often beyond, their graduate careers. 

 Why seek a mentor?

Mentoring helps graduate students find success and fulfillment in their academic and professional pursuits.

Studies indicate that graduate students who receive effective mentoring demonstrate greater:

  • Productivity in research activity, conference presentations, pre-doctoral publications, instructional development, and grant writing.
  • Academic success in persisting in graduate school, achieving shorter time to degree, and performing better in academic coursework.
  • Professional success with greater chances of securing a tenure-track position if seeking employment in academe, or greater career advancement potential if seeking leadership positions in administration or in sector outside the university. 

How do I look for a mentor?

 Look on the department website or ask more experience graduate students or your graduate chair to find out who is doing research in your interest area. When you have identified a possible mentor, take a class with that faculty member if you can.  

 What do I do once I’ve found a mentor?

Discuss and record your immediate and long-term goals. Explore useful professional development experiences in view of these goals. Discuss options and target dates, issues that may affect the mentoring relationship such as time, financial constraints, lack of confidence, or newness to the role, etc.

Arrange a meeting schedule with your mentor (try to meet at least once a quarter).

Discuss with your mentor the following activities that can form part of your mentoring relationship:

  • Getting advice on strategies for improving teaching or research.
  • Organizing observations of teaching and providing constructive feedback.
  • Organizing a session of work shadowing (in a campus or other employment setting).
  • Getting advice on issues or concerns with colleagues in study or research groups.
  • Providing feedback from other sources (students, faculty, administrators, and other mentors in or outside the university).

Create a mentoring action plan that reflects different professional development needs at different stages of your graduate program.

Encourage your mentor to reflect regularly with you on your goals, achievements, and areas for improvement, and amend your mentoring action plan as needed by focusing on your developing needs.