What are the benefits of having a contract with my faculty mentor?

Mentoring contracts provide a level of transparency in mentoring and articulate shared expectations for the relationship. Many faculty mentors will tacitly support a form of "contract" by articulating their own needs, strengths, and weaknesses with mentees early on. For instance, a faculty member who knows that they tend to put off tasks might ask for very clear deadlines for reading and responding to student drafts. Similarly, a student who knows that they work better under deadlines might ask for clear deadlines for draft completion.

Students need to know how they work best--do you need someone following up with you frequently to keep you on task? Or do you work better when left to yourself, knowing that you will complete tasks in a timely manner? Students also need to understand that faculty have their own work patterns and preferences, and need to negotiate expectations, rather than assume each party is on the same page. This may seem obvious, but many problematic faculty-student relationships result from a lack of clarity about expectations.

One way to ensure that all expectations are clear is to document them in a mentoring contract. A model contract is available Peer Mentoring Handbook (doc), but all contracts should be adapted to suit the needs and preferences of the mentor and mentee. Developing a contract might seem unnecessary, but establishing expectations early can help students and faculty avoid problems later on.

One way to broach the subject of a contract with your faculty mentor is to appeal to the research-based reasons for doing so. In other words, simply ask, early on in the partnership, to establish some expectations with your faculty member. You can explain to your faculty mentor that you want to make sure you are clear about how the dissertation is going to proceed, in order to keep yourself on track productively.