The mentoring experience

Goals and work plans

Develop a work plan that includes short- and long-term goals within reasonable timelines. Talk with your mentor and with your graduate program coordinator to make sure these plans meet departmental requirements. At least once a quarter, update your mentor on your progress and obstacles you have encountered. Explore additional training and experience you need in order to achieve your goals. If you need to modify your timeline, work with your mentor to agree on a new work plan.


Discuss how often you and your mentor will meet and what other modes of communication can keep your conversations going (e.g., occasional emails). Request the amount of meeting time you need to make progress. If this person will have a heavy travel schedule while you are pursuing your degree, ask the mentor to suggest others you can consult during that time. Find out if the mentor is comfortable being contacted at home, and let him or her know if you can be called at home.


Clarify how often the mentor will give you feedback, including how long he or she typically needs to return papers or drafts of articles. Inquire about his or her current workload so you can plan your deadlines appropriately, and offer sufficient lead time when handing in your work. Ask the mentor if he or she tends to provide lots of feedback or sparse feedback.


Discuss your mentor’s expectations for drafts of your work before you submit them. Some professors do not want to review rough drafts. In that case, share drafts with a peer or writing group, and revise them before submitting them.

Publishing and presenting

Find prospective mentor’s philosophy on presenting or co-authoring papers. Be explicit about the kinds of publishing or presentation opportunities you seek.

Intellectual property

If you are working closely with a mentor on a research project, clarify who owns the data that is being collected and whether others will be able to have access to it. Consideration for the ownership and sharing of research is important in all disciplines. Discuss the ownership of any copyright and patent agreements that might occur as a result of a project. For further information, contact the UW Office of Research or CoMotion.

Research and human subjects

The UW Human Subjects Division must review all research involving human subjects that is performed or supervised by UW faculty, staff or students. Students must seek Human Subjects review and approval before starting research activities. Research with human subjects cannot be retroactively reviewed and approved. Performing a human subjects study without prior review and approval is considered “serious” non-compliance according to federal regulations and must be brought to a full Human Subjects Committee for inquiry and action.


Be explicit about the confidentiality you want from your mentors, and offer strict confidentiality to your mentors. An exception to confidentiality is the obligation of all UW employees, including graduate assistants, to report instances of sexual harassment to organizational superiors.

Recommendation letters

Before you approach the job search phase of your graduate experience, identify people who could write letters of recommendation on your behalf. Ask how much advance notice your mentors like for a recommendation letter. Be sure to provide key details about the fellowship, grant, program or job that the letter of recommendation supports. Attach an updated copy of your curriculum vitae. Ask one or more mentors to visit the classes you teach or labs you run so that they can reflect on your professional abilities.

What to do if problems arise

Situations may arise that impact the timely completion of your work, such as the birth of a child or an illness. If this happens, discuss the issue with your mentors. As soon as possible, give them a new timeline for completing your degree.

Occasionally mentors face situations that can affect progress on your work. If significant delays happen often, talk with one or more of the following individuals.

The mentor or adviser

Remind the person of your needs. If you are not getting satisfactory results, schedule a face-to-face meeting with the person as soon as possible to review what is happening and your goals.

Other mentors or supervisory committee members

If other mentors on your team do not know the individual with whom you are experiencing difficulties, they will offer a fresh perspective and suggest solutions.


Other students who have frequent contact with the individual in question can tell you if the issue is typical and may suggest solutions. Your peers can explain the norms in your department regarding frequency of meetings, turn-around time for feedback and availability of faculty.

Other faculty

Other faculty can advise you on dealing with challenges. If you want someone to intercede on your behalf, senior faculty may be in a better position to do so than junior faculty. You may feel more comfortable asking general questions about a situation, rather than being explicit about those involved.

Department staff

Graduate program coordinators and graduate program assistants can clarify departmental expectations and policies. They also can offer suggestions on how to resolve difficulties, and are familiar with the people and the offices on campus that can assist you.

Department chair

If you have tried to resolve issues with the faculty member directly, and other peers, faculty and staff have been unable to assist you, you might find it helpful to talk to your department chair. Focus the discussion diplomatically and objectively on the assistance you need to meet your goals. Avoid making the discussion about personality or interpersonal style difficulties.

The Graduate School

At any point, you may talk with staff at the Graduate School.