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Key Traits for Mentoring

Forwardness. Our students may well be hesitant about approaching us if they are interested in doing scholarship. They know that they don’t know much yet and may feel inadequate or in danger of being dismissed. And they certainly know that they don’t yet know enough to take on fully professional work. But with undergraduate research projects, we as faculty are in charge. We can recruit students in whose eyes we see the glint of pleasure in the ideas of the classroom; we can reach out to students who may not yet feel capable of reaching out to us.

Persistence and repetition.  Nothing is easy the first time . . . or, perhaps, even the fourth. The ongoing contacts with undergraduates during research projects allow us to give students the opportunity to struggle and eventually to emerge from those struggles with hard-won success. And inviting students into our intellectual world allows them to see us struggling with the framing of a new problem, with the management of inevitable setbacks. It takes scholars off pedestals and allows undergraduates to see us as workers and thinkers not unlike themselves.

Emotional honesty.  We all entered our career paths because of some particular motive, often hard to state rationally but still at the core of why do the work we’ve chosen. There are parts of our work that enliven us and other parts we find frustrating or tedious. Our being open about the joys and challenges we find in our work will help our students see how they might partake of the particular pleasures of our discipline.

Recognizing and locating alternative mentors.  As students grow and become more focused in their work, they may well want to take their scholarship into area with which we’re less familiar or less capable of strong guidance. If students have been working and presenting along with us, they’re becoming part of our professional network, and we can work with them to find an intellectual guide more closely fitted to their specific interests.


Source: Louise Temple, Thomas Q. Sibley, and Amy J. Orr. How to Mentor Undergraduate Researchers. Washington, DC: Council on Undergraduate Research, 2010.


Mentoring Tips for Faculty

  • Remember that you goal is enhancing the educational and personal growth of the student.
  • Be patient. Do not take students’ abilities for granted.
  • Tailor explanations of concepts to the student’s level. Students often remark that mentors forget that “I am just a student.”
  • Encourage questions. Create an environment in which all questions are legitimate and answered.
  • Show enthusiasm and interest in the student and the project.
  • Be available and accessible. Make time for students. Everyone is busy. If you agree to be a mentor, you need to take the time required to be supportive. Avoid distractions, such a phone calls and colleague visits during scheduled student meetings.
  • Be ready. If you are not prepared when the student arrives, it does more than cause him or her to do “busy work” to kill time; it sends a message about how much you value the student and his or her contribution and worth.
  • Set aside a regular time for mentor-student meetings. The frequency of the such meetings will vary by discipline and by level of student.
  • Talk about career plans with your students, and if appropriate, encourage students to consider graduate school. Many student, even very bright and capable students, do not feel able or worthy; sometimes they only have to asked if they are considering graduate school to be encouraged to apply.
  • Occasionally choose a different venue for meetings, such as a campus coffee shop. Students typically enjoy seeing the “human” side of their mentors. Remember that you are always a role model.
  • Trust is more easily lost than gained.
  • Think about what you say to students. Be consistent; students do repeat to each other the things you say. Never rebuke a student in front of others.

Source:  Louise Temple, Thomas Q. Sibley, and Amy J. Orr. How to Mentor Undergraduate Researchers. Washington, DC: Council on Undergraduate Research, 2010.