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Mentoring Graduate Students

Mentoring graduate students is an important responsibility for faculty.  Whether it is in the lab, classroom, or just generally through their program, this relationship has the potential to transform not only the mentee but also the mentor.  For this to occur, one must approach the process with intention and purpose. This webpage describes what mentoring is.

Zelditch (1990) suggests that the role of mentor is complex and more encompassing than simply that of an advisor, a role that is often confused with mentoring. Specifically, mentoring focuses on building a mutually beneficial relationship that fosters learning, growth, and understanding that ultimately yield opportunities and resources that finally lead to personal and professional gratification and achievement for the parties involved.  Thus mentors are advisors, supporters, tutors, masters in their field, sponsors, and role models all in one.

According to Mertz (2004), there are two factors that contribute to defining a student/instructor relationship as mentoring or not.  Those factors are intent and involvement.  Intent is related to the purpose of entering into the relationship whereas the involvement is the time and effort necessary to fulfill the intent.  Key questions that should be asked related to intent include:

  • What is wanted and expected of me?
  • What will I get from the relationship?
  • What will the other party to the relationship get?
  • Am I willing and able to meet those expectations and help that person realize those needs?

Key questions related to involvement are:

  • How much is required of me?
  • How willing and able am I to invest that amount in the relationship?
  • How many hours am I willing to invest?
  • What degree of commitment am I willing to make?

With mentoring, the intent must be both personal and professional for the greatest impact.  Specifically, the potential mentor must view the mentoring enterprise as a process that is personally and professionally rewarding and one that he/she/they are in a position to engage and fulfill.  In terms of involvement, the mentoring relationship is one that requires a great investment of time, energy, and emotion as the mentor is called to develop a new relationship that at times will be uneven in support, trade on personal and professional relationships to provide opportunities, and challenge (her/him/them)selves to be open to influenced and changed by the new perspectives, ideas, and expertise that the mentee offers.

Additional Resources

Download the following handouts for additional and specialized tips for mentoring graduate students: