UW Graduate School

Finding good mentors

Be proactive

The faculty-student ratio at the UW may be larger that of your undergraduate experience, especially if you studied in a smaller academic setting. At a large research university, you may need to seek out interactions with faculty members. You should approach professors openly and initiate discussions. If you are less comfortable with direct approaches, visit professors during their office hours.

Seek out multiple mentors

Identify and cultivate multiple potential mentors. They can be faculty members within or outside the University, departmental staff, current graduate students, alumni and other professionals in the community.

Develop realistic approaches to mentors

Invest time in assessing what you need from your mentors and request that assistance clearly and professionally. Requesting specific guidance is more effective than general requests for mentorship.

Be visible

Being visible in your department is important. Office and hallway conversations help you build relationships and glean vital information. If you have an office in the department, use it as much as possible. If you have other responsibilities such as a family or work, talk to your mentors about how you can remain engaged in regular happenings.

Be responsible

Recognize the value of taking responsibility for your education, which includes developing a vision for your future and taking care of everyday details. Be prompt for meetings with your mentors, and prepare agendas. Update your mentors once a quarter about your progress, and articulate how they can help you.

Show commitment to your professional development

Professors commonly point out the importance of students embracing their own work—an important aspect of professional leadership. Initiate or lead study, writing, discussion or interest groups among your peers. Asking a peer or a faculty member to co-author a paper, seeking a grant and applying your scholarship to civic concerns demonstrate your professional commitment.

Receive criticism in a professional manner

A core part of intellectual work is exchanging ideas and debating their merits. Accept criticism of your work in a professional manner. Accepting criticism does not mean agreeing with everything that someone says about your work, but rather reflects your willingness to consider and evaluate the merits of other views.

Let mentors know you appreciate their advice

Tell your mentors that you value their time and that you use their input productively. After reading books or making contacts your mentor suggests, talk about the results of what you learned. Don’t feel compelled to follow every bit of advice, but inform your mentors when their advice is helpful, even when it leads you in an unexpected direction.