How can I be an effective mentor to my graduate students?
Effective mentoring involves supporting students' development as professionals by providing research guidance as well as networking and other professionalizing opportunities. For many, it also involves a meaningful relationship built on trust, mutual respect, and reciprocity (Walker et al.). Kathy Kram, an early and influential mentoring researcher, identifies mentoring's career and psycho-social functions, both of which are important to successful protege development. But the importance of psycho-social dimensions of mentoring can sometimes be overlooked. While mentoring is first and foremost a professional connection, many graduate students need some level of encouragement and personal support. According to a National Academy of Sciences publication, Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend, listening and observing are on the top of the list of fundamental practices of successful mentoring, highlighting the need for open communication and response to students' needs, and attending to the fact that those needs will change as the mentoring relationship develops.
Given the very important personal and psycho-social elements of mentoring, there is of course no "one way" to be a good mentor, but having clear expectations and open communication is a good place to start.
Not only do faculty need to be clear and open about their needs and expectations, but graduate students should also be encouraged to articulate their own needs and assumptions in order to dispel misunderstandings early on, and so the mentor pair can develop a mentoring plan that suits their own personalities. We recommend that mentors, especially new mentors, consider using some form of mentoring contract to ensure that everyone is on the same page. Acknowledging mentoring as a purposeful teaching activity, expectations should be revisited and revised regularly to foster the reflective practices that are the hallmark of quality teaching and learning.
Mentors should also consider the value of non-traditional mentoring arrangements to further support mentees and decrease the stress placed on the primary research mentor. Carol Mattingly, SIGS' Faculty Mentor Award winner, encourages her mentees to form a research group together, in which they can discuss their research and receive additional support and feedback. She describes the group's design:
"We met at my place over food and drink (hence, everyone came). But, it wasn't just the food and drink. It was very good for students to see what one another were doing and to watch as those ahead of them navigated the entire process, including defense and graduation. Some even continued coming for a while after graduation because they were committed to others in the group. Sometimes I've had students form their own groups, too, but those were most often for reading conference proposals and papers, etc. I think my encouragement and hosting made a difference. It helped me to know where everyone was, where they were struggling, and often others were as good or better readers than I was. It just worked for me."
The responsibility of mentorship can also be disbursed through multiple mentoring, or encouraging students to recognize and develop less formal mentoring relationships with other faculty within and beyond their department. Such shared mentoring is an important aspect of what Walker et al., with the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate, call apprenticeship with rather than apprenticeship to; as they explain, "The traditional apprenticeship model is typically conceived as a pairing of two individuals, but the multifaceted, integrative learning expected of today's PhD's requires growth on a number of dimensions. It is rarely the case that one relationship can meet all those needs. Today's students are thus best served by having several intellectual mentors" (94). This shift promotes mentoring as a "collective responsibility" shared by students and multiple faculty across the department.