Keys to a Successful Mentorship

The following is excerpted and modified from Koblinsky, S. (2000), Mentoring Advice for Graduate Students, Family Science Department, University of Michigan.

There are many things to consider when working with a mentor, including your own needs and preferred style of learning. Faculty mentors vary in terms of their availability, communication styles, expectations for student productivity, involvement in co-authorship of publications, and their own reputations within a discipline.  A serious appraisal of the expertise and work styles of prospective mentors, as well as your own strengths and needs, can help you maintain rewarding mentoring relationships.

  1. Communication
    1. Inform a prospective mentor about how your own previous academic, professional, or personal experiences intersect with his/her interests.
    2. Be open and honest about your interests, needs, and career aspirations.
    3. After you are assigned a mentor, clarify your goals and expectations early on. Work with your mentor to create a realistic, mutually agreeable timeline for your study.
    4. Establish how often you will meet face to face and how you should contact your mentor with questions outside of meetings (e.g., email, phone).
    5. Communicate regularly with your mentor about your research progress; ask questions when they arise – remember that there are no dumb questions and that your mentor’s role is to help.
    6. Share your academic and professional achievements with your mentor.
    7. When conflicts arise, communicate clearly, stating the perceived problem and requesting that you and the mentor work collaboratively toward a solution.
    8. Maintain contact with your mentor during periods of slow progress and problems; don’t give the impression that you are avoiding your mentor.
    9. Respect your mentor’s time; if you need time beyond your appointment, schedule another meeting.
    10. Be aware of faculty-student boundaries; although you may have a friendship with your mentor, be respectful of his/her other duties and need to be objective in evaluating your work.
  2. Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activities
    1. Arrange regular meetings about research, scholarship, and creative activity with your mentor; many students believe that scheduling a meeting at least once every other week keeps them motivated and making steady progress.
    2. Always prepare yourself for meetings with your mentor.
      1. Arrive on time.
      2. Bring a written, prioritized list of topics and questions for discussion. 
      3. Bring a summary of what you’ve accomplished since the last meeting. 
      4. Bring your notes from previous meetings. 
      5. Bring any relevant, upcoming deadlines (e.g., Graduate School deadlines, submission deadlines for professional meetings).
    3. Ask your mentor to:
      1. Help you shape your research proposal or creative project.
      2. Discuss historical trends, current research, and research methods in your discipline.
      3. Guide and critique your research project or creative activity. 
      4. Help you think about the ethical implications of your research work. 
      5. Assist you in selecting members of your thesis/dissertation/project committee. 
      6. After each meeting, email your advisor a brief summary of your new tasks and any commitments that your mentor has made to you. Ask your mentor to respond if anything appears incorrect. These summaries will help you avoid future misunderstandings and maintain a record of your research progress. 
      7. Follow the advice of your mentor; read recommended publications and give your mentor feedback about the usefulness of his/her suggestions.
      8. Give appropriate credit to your mentor and fellow collaborators in publications, presentations, exhibitions, and creative activities. 
      9. Seek opportunities to work with your mentor on research, scholarly, and creative projects; professional meeting presentations; editorial reviews of publications and creative works; and grant proposals.
      10.  Actively participate in the activities of your laboratory or research/creative group. 
      11. Strive to complete all research and academic tasks on time; notify your mentor in a timely manner when you cannot meet a deadline. 
      12. Demonstrate an excellent work ethic.
  3.  Theses and Dissertations
    1. Submit only carefully written, well-edited and proofread drafts of the thesis/dissertation to your mentor (unless otherwise instructed by your mentor). 
    2. Determine how long your mentor expects to have your draft before returning a critique. 
    3. Accept critiques of your draft in a professional manner; if you continue to disagree with your mentor about an issue, present a well-reasoned response at your next meeting. 
    4. When resubmitting drafts of your thesis/dissertation, mark the new or edited sections so that your mentor will not always have to read the entire document. 
  4. Teaching
    1. Seek out at least one excellent teacher to mentor you in developing your teaching skills (this person need not be your dissertation advisor). 
    2. Develop a relationship with your teaching mentor, establishing expectations and regular meeting times. 
    3. Work with your mentor to identify teaching opportunities in your department, including serving as a laboratory instructor, a discussion section leader, and/or an autonomous teacher. 
    4. Share your teaching goals with your mentor, including the syllabi and assignments you wish to develop, the content you wish to cover, and the skills you hope to improve. 
    5. Arrange for your mentor to observe your teaching on multiple occasions; then set up times when the two of you can meet to review your instruction, evaluate your progress, and set future teaching goals. 
    6. Encourage your mentor to help you create an inclusive classroom environment, capitalize on the diverse backgrounds of your students, and recognize different learning styles.
    7. Take advantage of teaching-oriented opportunities offered by your department/college and the Graduate School; discuss what you have learned with your mentor. 
  5. Career and Professional Development
    1. Ask your mentor to provide you with career information and guidance.
    2. Meet with your mentor to discuss your career aspirations and important issues in your professional development.
    3. Request that your mentor introduce you to colleagues, potential employers, and other professionals who might help to advance your career.
    4. Present your research and creative work in multiple forums (department, university, professional conferences/performances), and network with your mentor and his/her colleagues at these events.
    5. Encourage your mentor to nominate you for fellowships, awards, and service committees that will enhance your professional profile.
    6. Ask your mentor to help you develop interviewing skills, handle job offers, and negotiate a first contract.
    7. Maintain contact with your mentor after graduation; inform him/her of your successes and continue to seek professional advice when needed.