UW Graduate School

Getting started


The person who best knows your goals, needs and passions is you. Reflect on the following questions to help assess what you have to offer and what you need from your mentoring relationships.

Goals for graduate school and beyond

  • What are the connections between my experiences and my decision to go to graduate school? What do I hope an advanced degree will help me do?
  • What type of training do I want?
  • What skills do I need to develop?
  • What kinds of research or creative projects do I want to work on?
  • What career do I want to pursue?
  • What networks might I need to develop?
  • What work or training experiences might I need?
  • How do I want my learning to impact communities beyond the University?

Strengths and weaknesses

  • What skills do I bring to graduate study (e.g., creative, analytical, statistical and organizational)?
  • What skills do I need to develop further?
  • What experiences might help me strengthen my skills?

Work style

  • Do I like to work independently or collaboratively, or a combination of both?
  • Do I like to manage meetings with an agenda, or do I prefer to let priorities emerge during meetings?
  • How does my work style help or prevent me from learning?
  • How does my work style compare to that of others who have served as mentors in my life?

Explore your prospects for forming a mentoring team

Take the initiative

At a large research university, approaching a potential mentor can be daunting at first. However, taking the initiative to talk with faculty is more helpful than waiting for them to approach you. Prospective mentors will appreciate your interest in their work and will be eager to talk to you.

Strive for diversity

Consider the composition of your informal mentoring team. You can benefit from individuals whose background, characteristics and perspectives are different from your own. Some of the most meaningful mentoring occurs when mentor and student explore different takes on problems and yet focus successfully on what matters most: mutual interests and learning from each other. Beyond assessing rapport, inviting individuals of a different ethnicity or gender to serve as your mentors will help you develop a more reflective understanding of your own work and possibilities.

Balance between senior and junior faculty

Look for a balance of senior and junior faculty members. Each can be of assistance, although possibly in different ways. Senior faculty may help you better with networking. Junior faculty may help you cope better with the stresses associated with being a graduate student.

Individuals outside the discipline/university

Seek potential mentors outside your department or the University whose intellectual or professional interests relate to yours. These individuals will provide you with a fresh perspective on your work and help you understand how it relates to questions or problems in other fields.

Initiate contact with potential mentors

You are now ready to discuss your aspirations with prospective mentors and familiarize yourself with their professional accomplishments. Make a positive impression, establish a good rapport and assess whether the person is a good fit for you.

Your first meetings should be exploratory. A mentoring relationship evolves and often arises out of a particular need. You can extend more explicit mentoring invitations down the road after some planning (seeĀ Worksheet 3, Planning for First Meetings).

Mutual interests

Potential mentors want to know if you have intellectual interests similar to theirs. Share how your prior academic, professional or personal experiences relate to theirs. Ask about their recent work, and explore ways in which their work intersects with what you envision doing.

Motivation and direction

Mentors enjoy mentees who are motivated to grow professionally. State your goals, and ask how you can explore these goals together and about courses or key projects you should consider.

Ask potential mentors to suggest other people and experiences that will help you develop your skills and knowledge. Make those connections, and let your mentor know you have taken action.

Skills and strengths

Highlight the qualities you bring to the relationship, such as research or language skills, creativity, analytical techniques, computer skills, willingness to learn, persistence, passion, enthusiasm and commitment.