Throughout the year, we offered you strategies to get the mentoring you need to thrive in graduate and professional school—and we will continue to do so. We have suggested that building a mentor team of peers, faculty, departmental staff, friends, work colleagues and community members can help you recognize and meet your needs and goals as a whole person—not just as a student. We know that “finding a mentor” and “building a team” isn’t as simple as it sounds. It is actually pretty common to hit some bumps on the road as you identify and build working relationships with mentors on your team. We hope the following tips will help you address those concerns:
Difficulty finding a mentor. Depending on your degree program, you may or may not have been assigned a faculty advisor or future mentor (there is a difference between an advisor and mentor). Maybe you’re a little introverted and shy about approaching faculty. Or maybe you just don’t know where to start. Try out these strategies: (1) Ask peers about faculty mentors whom they work with and why. Ask them about the qualities they seek in mentors, and see if their responses resonate with your needs. (2) Re-visit faculty web profiles—including those outside of your degree program—and identify shared fields of interest. (3) After completing steps one and two, make a list of the faculty you’d like to work with, and send them an email to set up a meeting. This guide has helpful tips for setting up that first meeting. Bringing your first draft of an individual development plan (IDP) to this meeting can help you and your new mentor visualize—and plan for—the goals and experiences you’d like to have at the UW and beyond. The conversation may just be an informative 30 minutes to guide you along your path, or it may lead to a longer term working relationship.
Committed to mentoring, but unavailable. You’ve identified a faculty mentor who is excited about working with you. You’ve had a few meetings where you’ve built momentum and plans of action to get things done. You both get along great! Then suddenly it’s gotten difficult for you to meet your mentor for a range of reasons. They’re about to go on research sabbatical, added more projects to their plate, planning for retirement, experiencing life stressors that you are not privy to, etc. You’ve unintentionally fallen off their radar; it isn’t about you, but it’s still frustrating. What should you do? Get back on their radar by setting up a check-in meeting. If your mentor isn’t responding to your e-mails for whatever reason, figure out an alternative method for communication. Leave your cell number with departmental staff and request that your mentor contact you. When your mentor responds, just calmly note that it has been sometime since you connected. You can ask directly if anything has changed to impact the work you are doing together. You may find that you’ll both need to re-visit your mentor/mentee agreement, the frequency of your meetings, or that you’ll need a new mentor depending on the circumstances. The circumstances could be temporary, and sometimes just resetting a communication plan, or using different communication tools, can help.
Not the mentor you expected. There are numerous reasons why a mentor isn’t a fit for you. These can include personality differences, conflicts that are unresolvable, or the feedback they are providing no longer supports your intellectual and professional growth. At this point, it’s critical that you reflect on a plan to change advisors so you can continue your work towards your graduate or professional degree. The first thing we suggest (if you haven’t already) is to seek advice from a trusted peer, faculty member, or department staff to help you think through ways to move forward. The point is to keep yourself from feeling and being isolated as you navigate the process. Second, check out these recommended suggestions for changing mentors or advisors from the UW Graduate School.
It is also good to be upfront and clear about both of your expectations throughout the mentor-mentee relationship. Take a look these check-lists on expectations for mentors and mentees from the Doctoral program in the UW Department of Physics.
- How to Obtain the Mentoring You Need: A Guide for Graduate Students, UW Graduate School
- 10 Strategies for “Managing Up” (with Your Advisors), UW Core Programs
- Managing Your Advisor, Inside Higher Ed
- How to Deal With Conflict (For Mentees and Mentors), Inside Higher Ed