Getting started as a mentor

Encourage your department

Departmental faculty members, chairs and graduate program coordinators share the responsibility of establishing and maintaining a culture of effective mentoring. While this culture will differ by department, some common elements make effective mentoring environments.

Develop a mentoring policy

Each department should establish a policy that establishes mentoring as a core component of the graduate student experience. Mentoring policies are most effective when the faculty create them based on a few interviews with mentoring focus groups. This way, all members of a department can identify principles of mentoring and agree on how they will establish and reward good practices.

Assign first-year, temporary advisers

Assign each new student a temporary faculty adviser to help him or her initiate relationships with faculty during the first year of graduate school. Assignments can be based on shared interests and should require each adviser to meet with advisees at least once a quarter to review departmental requirements and course selections, and make sure the students are adapting to department life. This will ensure that all students receive quality initial support in a systematic way. These temporary relationships allow students to learn the ropes without having to make premature commitments to a mentor. Later on, students’ choices of long-term mentors or advisers will be based on students’ research, teaching and career interests.

Establish peer mentoring

To facilitate students’ transition to graduate school, pair first-year graduate students with more advanced graduate students. Peer mentors can help new students become familiar with departmental culture, strategies for success and resources at the University and in Seattle. Departments should outline the basic responsibilities of peers to each other and the mentoring process, and make funds available for mentoring activities.

Establish multiple mentoring mechanisms

Rotate research mentors

Some departments require first- or second-year graduate students to work with faculty members to receive specific training so they may gain exposure to different skills and intellectual problems, not to conduct independent research. Disciplines in the sciences and engineering often rotate graduate students among faculty members.

Offer teaching mentors

Departments can assign a faculty mentor or two to observe TA classes and offer suggestions for improvement. Some departments offer a special course for graduate students working as TAs. Faculty instructors lead group discussions on topics such as pedagogical issues, general or discipline-specific instructional techniques and curriculum development.

Connect with your graduate alumni

Your graduate alumni are prominent professionals in their fields with many resources, ideas and energies to “give back” to your department and graduate students. Many UW departments reconnect with their alumni through speaker panels and workshops in which alumni can discuss career prospects and help students learn how to make their skills marketable.

Start a faculty-graduate student “brown bag” lunch program

Periodic faculty-graduate student lunches help students develop relationships and discover mutual interests with professors. Lunches can be organized around topics, and departments can circulate professors’ curriculum vitae (or post them on department websites) to help students assess faculty members’ research and teaching programs.

Create community

Designate a lounge or a conference room as place where graduate students, faculty, staff and their families can gather. Use this space to honor the accomplishments of graduate students and faculty, such as publications, research or teaching and mentoring awards.

Enhance professional socialization

Invite students to participate on departmental committees, including hiring and admissions committees. Encourage graduate students to present their teaching or research at departmental seminars, and increase opportunities for practicing public speaking skills. Assign one or two faculty members to provide students with constructive feedback. Alumni speaker series help students network as well as construct ambitious plans for their careers.

Reward effective mentoring

During reviews for merit increases, departmental leaders can take into account the quality and quantity of the mentoring that individual faculty provide. Departments can ask graduate students to assess their mentors. Another way to reward good mentors is to factor in teaching credits for faculty who have heavy mentoring responsibilities.