The basics of good mentoring
Read some mentoring tips, including suggestions for implementation. Each begins with typical student comments in italics:
Engage students in ongoing conversations
"The message my mentor sent to me was that I had value enough for her to spend time with me."
"The most important thing my mentor did was spend time talking with me and taking an interest in things interesting to me."
- A simple hello in the hallway makes a big difference. When time permits, ask about their courses or current work.
- Let students know they are welcome to talk with you during your office hours.
- Be in touch with those students you mentor at least once each semester.
- Although it is ultimately the responsibility of students to initiate contact with you, it may make a difference if you contact those students who are becoming remote.
- Some professors invite students to coffee or to their homes for dinner so that discussions can take place in more informal settings and away from the distractions of the office.
Demystify education at Marquette
"It has been extremely helpful to me to have a mentor who recognized that academic procedures and protocol — everything from how to select classes to how to assemble a panel for a conference — are not familiar territory for a lot of people."
"My mentor has been willing to answer the most basic of questions without making me feel foolish for asking them."
- Make sure you are familiar with your department handbook and the Undergraduate Bulletin and Graduate Bulletin.
- New students frequently do not know what questions to ask or the certain terms mean. Most likely they are hearing terms such as “mid-terms,” "qualifying exams" or "prelims" for the first time. Adjust your conversations accordingly.
- Some aspects of a colleague education are unwritten or vague. You can help by clarifying your program’s expectations for coursework, exams, research and teaching. For each stage of the program, discuss the criteria that are used for determining what is quality work.
- Alert students to possible pitfalls, especially those that may affect their funding status.
Provide constructive and supportive feedback
"I wrote several drafts before he felt I had begun to make a cogent argument, and as painful as that was, I would not have written the dissertation that I did without receiving strong, if just, criticism, but in a compassionate way."
"Honest advice — given as gently as possible — is something all of us students need."
- Provide students with forthright assessments of their work. Do not assume that students know what you think about their work.
- Be sure to provide feedback on a student’s work in a timely manner because a delay in responding to their work can hinder their progress.
- Temper criticisms with praise when it is deserved. Remind students that you are holding them to high standards so as to help them improve.
- If students fall behind in their work, do not automatically assume this reflects a lack of commitment. Talk with them to see what is going on. Perhaps they are exhausted, are unclear about what they are supposed to do next, or maybe dislike the project they are working on or the people they are working with. Maybe they feel overwhelmed or socially isolated.
- If you see problems that make you think students are not capable of completing their degrees, address these as soon as possible. If you put this issue aside, it may be more damaging to the students later on.
Provide encouragement and support
"Mentorship is far more than a one-time conversation about your career plans or a visit to a professor’s home. It is the mentor’s continuous engagement in her students’ professional growth and the ongoing support and encouragement of her student’s academic endeavors."
"My professors encouraged me both to publish my work and to participate in conferences. Without their encouragement, I may not have made the effort to accomplish these things."
- Encourage students to discuss their ideas, even those ideas students might fear are naïve or crazy.
- Encourage students to try new techniques and to expand their skills.
- Let students know it is OK to make mistakes. Remind them how much we learn from our failures.
- It is quite common for students to suffer from anxiety and insecurity about whether or not they truly belong in higher education. Let students know that most students experience this at some time. Assure them they have the skills and abilities to succeed. Share a negative experience you had and what you learned form it.
- Teach students to break large tasks into smaller ones to avoid being overwhelmed by the nature of a college education.
Help foster networks
"My co-chair referred me to a faculty member at another institution at a time when my research was floundering and I really needed additional support. I could not have completed my dissertation were it not for this recommendation."
"My advisers really made a team of their students, having regular meetings, informal parties and get togethers, working on project together and forming different interest groups. That comradeship was essential to my academic growth and my sense of belonging to a community of scholars."
- If you cannot provide something a student needs, suggest other people who might be of assistance: other Marquette faculty, graduate students, alumni, departmental staff, retired faculty and faculty from other universities.
- Within the departments and at conferences, introduce students to faculty and other students who have complementary interests.
- Some professors actively build a community of scholars by coordinating meetings or potluck dinners among students who share similar academic interests.
Look out for the student's interests
"My mentor allowed by tasks to grow along with me, offering me appropriate opportunities and challenges at each stage of my education."
"I knew that I was not just an ordinary student when she invited me to co-teach with her. We worked together as colleagues, not as teacher and student."
- Let students know up front that you want them to succeed.
- Create opportunities for students to demonstrate their competencies. For instance, take your students to important meetings and conferences so they can gain some visibility. Encourage them to make presentations at these venues.
- When you feel students are prepared, suggest or nominate them for fellowships, projects and teaching opportunities.
- Be an advocate for students whenever appropriate.
- Promote the student’s work within and outside your department.
Treat students with respect
"She treated me and her other students with respect — respect for our opinions, our independence and our visions of what we wanted to get from graduate school."
"It sounds silly, but the best thing my mentor did for me was to actually sit down and listen to what I had to say. When students are allowed to feel that what they have to say is actually worthwhile, it makes interactions more rewarding."
- Give students your full attention when talking with them. Minimize interruptions during your meetings with them so they can experience more personalized time.
- Develop a system for remembering previous conversations with a student and review those notes prior to scheduled meetings.
- Tell students what you learn from them. This will make them realize they are potential colleagues.
- Acknowledge the skills and experience students bring with them to the university.
Provide a personal touch
"Having someone supportive of the things that can go wrong is the difference in my mind between an adequate mentor and a great one."
"A few of my professors were always willing and eager to talk with me about my career interests, professional pursuits, and such issues as juggling career and family. This may not sound like much, but it truly makes a difference."
- Students may need to discuss certain academic and nonacademic issues that arise for them while they are in school. It’s helpful for them to know they can come to you and that you will care. Being open and approachable is particularly important when a student is shy or comes from a different cultural background.
- Assist students in finding creative solutions to issues that arise.
- If you feel that a student can benefit form professional counseling, be aware of the available resources.