What do peer mentoring programs in other departments look like?
Every year, at the beginning of admissions/recruitment season, the DGS sends a call via EGO (English Graduate Organization) for doctoral students to be peer mentors for incoming doctoral students. The DGS explains in that call what is involved in peer mentoring. He/she also asks EGO officers to select a Peer Mentor Coordinator who pairs the volunteers up with individual prospective students and also helps organize the visitation day. Mentors’ support for the visitation day includes everything from transport to touring campus to coming to the info meeting with the DGS and the party etc etc. The Coordinator encourages mentors to email their mentees so that the mentees can ask any question of the mentors. If the prospective students end up coming to UofL, then the peer mentors remain with their mentees through the first year as a source of support (and sometimes informally thereafter). Mentors can volunteer twice or more times if they like. Students who have been peer mentors always put it on their CVs and the DGS can highlight the student’s service on their recommendation letters. Students have done a great job with this program.
Anatomical Sciences & Neurobiology
All incoming students are mailed welcome information either in late May or early June. In the cover letter, they are provided with the name and contact information for a NeuroBuddy that has been assigned to them. The NeuroBuddies are chosen from amongst current graduate students they are matched primarily by research interest, as determined by the Statement of Interests that are required with each application. Each incoming Ph.D. student is assigned to a different NeuroBuddy. Incoming Master's students are often assigned to the same NeuroBuddy (since it's a 2 year program and the pool of potential Buddies is more limited). They are told in the letter to feel free to contact their NeuroBuddy with any questions that come up (and they do; although Buddies could also be asked to give them a welcome call and/or email as some are foreign). During IPIBS orientation week, the department sets up an afternoon meeting with refreshments for the incoming students to meet their NeuroBuddies in person (most have already had lots of contact by that point). This meeting is always scheduled the day before the incoming students meet with their assigned faculty advisor to select their courses, so by that time they had received lots of advice on how to proceed. The meeting also helps the new students get input about the labs they are thinking about doing their rotations in. Once they are in a lab, the students tend to seek peer advise from the other students in the lab (if there are any, although sometimes it's their NeuroBuddy as students are paired by research interest).
All prospective students are offered an opportunity for a brief mentoring opportunity. The department asks current students or alums to volunteer as mentors for a prospective student. When a prospective student requests to talk to a brief mentor, a number of characteristics such as interest, race, employment status, etc, are matched. Current students are also offered opportunity to talk to more advanced students as they decide on whether to specialize.
Based on the work of our amazing student representative from 2007-2008, we started a peer mentoring program for the first year clinical doctoral students. At some point in the first semester, you may being to wonder why you signed up for this and how you are going to make it through four years of incessant learning, which is normal…or you may feel more confident, which is great (but unusual)! Either way, it may be helpful to have someone to consult with on a regular basis, a “go-to person,” who can give you guidance from the student perspective on how to succeed in the program. We pair 1st year students with more advanced students, either from their lab, or in a related area if there are no senior students in a given lab.