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Best Practices in Mentoring

Best Practices in Mentoring

Communicate with Your Students

  • Engage with students in various ways from simple things such as saying hello to them in the hallway, asking them how they are doing in their courses, or inviting them for a cup of coffee when you are free of distractions.
  • Talk to your students on a regular basis.
  • Reach out to those who seem remote to see if that is simply their cultural way of being respectful or if it is due to their sense of social or academic isolation.
  • Let them know how and when to best reach you if they want to talk (i.e., e-mail, cell phone, or stopping in during office hours).

Demystify Graduate School

  • Provide students with the most recent copies of the program’s handbook and show them how to access the Graduate College website for policies, procedures, and forms.
  • Many first-year students need help to get through the jargon that exists within the field, the department, and the Graduate College. Many are hearing terms such as “qualifying” exams or “orals” for the first time.
  • Make the implicit explicit. Clarify the vague or unwritten aspects of the program’s expectations for committees, courses, research, etc. Almost all students need help with the finer, often unstated, points of doing a thesis or dissertation.
  • At each stage of the graduate experience, explain the formal and informal criteria that the faculty use to determine what will count as quality work on the part of the student.
  • Alert students to pitfalls well ahead of time, notably those that may affect funding or graduate standing.

Provide Constructive and Supportive Feedback

  • Students need your timely and forthright assessment of their work. You should avoid assuming that students know what you think of their work.
  • Tempering criticism with praise when it is deserved will help remind students that your high standards are intended to help them improve.
  • Some mentors make the assumption that students who fall behind in their work lack commitment. Rather, they may be exhausted, unclear about what they need to do next, experiencing difficulties with resources, or running into problems with collaborators. An understanding of their perspective is a constructive approach.
  • Address any issues about a student’s ability to progress in a timely manner.

Provide Encouragement

  • Generally, students should take the risks of making the kinds of mistakes that often lead to better learning. You might even share with them a less than successful experience of your own, such as a heavily critiqued paper you wrote.
  • Encourage students to discuss their ideas with you or other colleagues, even the ideas that the student might think naïve.
  • Let those assigned to you for advising know clearly that changing advisors can and does happen. Students might be unaware of this possibility.
  • Reassure students of their skills and abilities. Many of them may be experiencing doubts and anxieties as to whether they belong in graduate school (aka, “Imposter Syndrome”). Let them know that even experienced scholars have anxieties from time to time.
  • Teach students how to manage large tasks by dividing them into smaller ones with manageable deadlines for each.

Foster Networks and Multiple Mentors

  • Encourage students to create a constellation or team of mentors. Let students know about others at Boise State University, or even beyond, who may be able to help them. In addition to faculty in your department, there are other faculty on campus, other graduate students, alumni, community members, staff, and retired faculty.
  • Introduce students to faculty and other graduate students who have complementary interests on campus and at conferences.
  • Help your students connect their work with experts in and outside of the university.

Treat Students with Respect

  • Avoid allowing the phone or other visitors from distracting or interrupting you while you are meeting with one of your students. A common concern among graduate students is that they do not get their professors’ full attention. Focus on the student while you are with them.
  • Keep notes on discussions to review prior to your next meeting.
  • Faculty often can learn a lot from their students, but how often do they tell that to the students? Such disclosures give the students confidence.
  • Acknowledging the prior skills, experience, and knowledge that the students bring with them to graduate school helps to build their confidence.

Ways to Provide a Personal Touch

  • Be open and approachable. When students need to talk to you about academic or non-academic issues, knowing that they can reach you is very helpful.
  • Help students find creative solutions to their academic or personal challenges.
  • Be familiar with campus resources so that you can refer students should the need arise.