What a good mentor does

Engages students in conversation

  • Welcomes students to talk often, and invites them to discussions during office hours, in the lab, department lounges or hallways
  • Is in touch with students at least once a quarter
  • Invites students to coffee or outings away from the office for informal discussions

Demystifies graduate school for students

  • Helps students interpret program guidelines and the Graduate School’s policies and procedures
  • Adjusts academic discussions to help students know what questions to ask or what certain terminology means
  • Clarifies unwritten or vague aspects of program expectations for coursework, exams, research and teaching
  • Helps students understand the finer points of forming a committee and how to approach a thesis or dissertation
  • Helps students understand the criteria used to judge the quality of their work at different stages of graduate study
  • Alerts students ahead of time to possible pitfalls, especially those that may affect their funding status.

“It has been extremely helpful to me to have a mentor who recognized that academic procedures and protocol — everything from how to select classes to how to assemble a panel for a conference — are not familiar territory for a lot of people.”

“My mentor has been willing to answer the most basic questions without making me feel foolish for asking them.”

Provides constructive and supportive feedback

  • Provides students with frank, helpful and timely feedback on their work, and knows that delays in responding create insecurities that can hinder student progress
  • Is equally specific when giving praise as when giving criticism. The mentor’s high standards help mentees improve
  • Does not assume a lack of commitment if a student falls behind in work and tries to assess, with the student, what is going on and offers help
  • Knows the benefits of early intervention and addresses quickly any question about a student’s ability to complete his or her degree.

“I wrote several drafts before he felt I had begun to make a cogent argument, and as painful as that was, I would not have written the dissertation that I did without receiving strong, if just, criticism, but in a compassionate way.”

“Honest advice, given as gently as possible, is something all of us graduate students need.”

Provides encouragement

  • Encourages students to come forward with their ideas at all stages of development
  • Motivates students to try new techniques and to expand their skills
  • Reminds students that mistakes lead to better learning
  • Shares less-than-successful professional experiences and the lessons learned from them
  • Knows that many students experience anxiety about their place in graduate school and helps them understand that seasoned professionals also experience this kind of anxiety
  • Teaches students how to break down potentially overwhelming projects into manageable tasks.

“Mentorship is far more than a one-time conversation about your career plans or a visit to a professor’s home. It is the mentor’s continuous engagement in a student’s professional growth and the ongoing support and encouragement of a student’s academic endeavors.”

“My professors encouraged me both to publish my work and to participate in conferences. Without their encouragement, I might not have made the effort to accomplish these things.”

Fosters networks and multiple mentors

  • Helps students locate assistance from multiple sources and sees faculty, graduate students, alumni, department staff, retired faculty and faculty from other universities as resources
  • Introduces students to faculty and other graduate students in the department and at conferences
  • Helps students connect their work with experts in the community who can provide career perspectives
  • Builds a community of scholars by coordinating discussion groups or social events among students.

“My co-chair referred me to a faculty member doing related research at UNC at a time when my research was floundering and I really needed additional support. I could not have completed my dissertation were it not for this recommendation.”

“My advisers really made a team of their graduate students, having regular meetings and informal parties and get-togethers, working on projects together, and forming interest groups. That comradeship was essential to my academic growth and my sense of having a community.”

Looks out for students’ interests

  • Conveys that he or she wants students to succeed
  • Creates opportunities for students to demonstrate their competencies by encouraging them to present at meetings, conferences and in university forums

Thinks about students’ mentoring needs

  • Nominates students for high-visibility fellowships, projects, teaching and internship opportunities
  • Promotes students’ research and teaching projects inside and outside the department
  • Is an advocate for all graduate students

“My mentor allowed my tasks to grow along with me, offering appropriate opportunities and challenges at each stage of my education.”

“I knew that I was not just an ordinary student when she invited me to co-teach with her. We worked together as colleagues, not as teacher and student.”

Treats students with respect

  • Minimizes interruptions and distractions during meetings with students
  • Tells students what he or she learns from them
  • Acknowledges the prior skills and personal and professional experiences students bring to graduate school

“She treated me and her other students with respect — respect for our opinions, our independence, and our visions of what we wanted to get from graduate school.”

“It sounds silly but the best thing my mentor did for me was to actually sit down and listen to what I had to say. When graduate students are allowed to feel that what they have to say is actually worthwhile, it makes interactions more rewarding.”

Provides a personal touch

  • Is approachable and demonstrates caring, even when students need to discuss non-academic issues
  • Does not assume that students experience challenges in the same way and assists them in finding creative solutions
  • Keeps abreast of the mentoring and professional development resources at the Graduate School and elsewhere.

“Having someone supportive when things go wrong is the difference, in my mind, between an adequate mentor and a great one.”

“A few of my professors were always willing and eager to talk with me about my career interests, professional pursuits, and issues such as juggling career and family. This may not sound like much, but it truly makes a difference.”