Becoming a better mentor to your students
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Becoming a Better Mentor to Your Students . Don W. Morgan, Ph.D. Department of Health and Human Performance . Some Personal Thoughts About the Mentoring Process . After years of serving as a research mentor to students, I’m still learning how to be an effective mentor

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Becoming a Better Mentor to Your Students

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Becoming a Better Mentor to Your Students

Don W. Morgan, Ph.D.

Department of Health and Human Performance

Some Personal Thoughts About the Mentoring Process

  • After years of serving as a research mentor to students, I’m still learning how to be an effective mentor

  • The process of mentoring remains somewhat mystical to me

  • When students graduate, I still ask myself if I’ve done the best job possible in mentoring them, realizing that they will likely mentor other students

  • Hopefully, I’ve learned from my successes and mistakes

  • Often, how we mentor students reflects how we were mentored

  • There are many different mentoring styles

Origins of Mentoring

  • Odysseus placed Mentor in charge of his palace and his son, Telemachus, when he left for the Trojan War

  • Homer described Mentor as a “wise and trusted counselor”

  • Athena, in the guise of Mentor, became the guardian teacher of Telemachus and helped him deal with a number of personal dilemmas

What is a Mentor?

  • Someone who imparts wisdom to and shares knowledge with a less-experienced colleague

  • Someone who takes a special interest in helping another person develop into a successful professional

  • A mentoring relationship takes time to develop and during this time, a student’s needs and the nature of the relationship between the mentor and student can change

What is a Mentor?

  • Sometimes students find mentors elsewhere – perhaps a fellow student, other faculty members, a wise friend, or another person with experience who can offer guidance and support

  • A good mentor seeks to help a student optimize their educational experience, assist the student’s socialization into a professional discipline, and help the student find suitable employment

  • These obligations can extend beyond formal schooling and continue into or through a student’s professional career

Mentoring is Multifaceted

Zelditch (1990)

“Mentors are advisors, people with career experience willing to share their knowledge; supporters, people who give emotional and moral encouragement; tutors, people who give specific feedback on one’s performance; masters, in the sense of employers to whom one is apprenticed; sponsors, sources of information about and aid in learning about professional opportunities; and role modelsof the kind of person one should be as a professional”

Features of an Good Mentoring Relationship

  • Characterized by mutual respect, trust, understanding, and empathy

  • Good mentors share life experiences and wisdom, as well as technical expertise

  • Effective mentors are good listeners, good observers, and good problem-solvers

  • Good mentors make an effort to know, accept, and respect the goals and interests of a student

The Mentor as Faculty Adviser

  • Help those you mentor towards greater initiative, independence, and self-reliance

  • Some general points:

    • Take students seriously

    • Don’t dictate answers

    • Help students develop self-esteem

    • Address fears or concerns

  • When discussing potential career goals, encourage students to explore options, talk to other students and professionals, and seek practical experiences

Mentoring Graduate Students

  • Help students to select a graduate program that will be a good fit for them, in terms of matching their interests, curriculum, and overall feel

  • Encourage students to visit schools, if possible

  • Help students choose an adviser

  • When considering accepting a student to work with you, look at the whole picture

  • In terms of curriculum, encourage students to take courses that will expand their knowledge base and help them become independent, productive, and self-reliant once they leave school

The Mentor as Faculty Adviser

  • When working with students on research, help them identify a well-defined project(s) that interest(s) both of you

  • Some general points:

    • Set a clear time line; encourage careful planning and use of time

    • Set high, but realistic goals

    • Help students develop the expertise needed to conduct the project and know what your role will be

    • Whenever possible, link the project with previous course work

  • While project results are important, a primary purpose of student research is to help them master techniques, learn to think critically, acquire strategies for problem-solving, and learn patience and perseverance

The Mentor as Faculty Adviser

  • If a graduate student has an interest in conducting research beyond the MS or PhD degree, the selection of a thesis or dissertation topic is absolutely critical, because it can set the stage for the student’s future research agenda

  • Work closely with students in disseminating their research at scientific meetings and in peer-reviewed journals

  • The skills required in conducting well-thought out research projects that are completed in a timely manner with measurable and valid outcomes have potential application to a variety of professional occupations (i.e., teaching, research, industry)

The Mentor as Career Adviser

  • Assist graduate students to prepare for job interviews by:

    • Helping them put together or revise a curriculum vitae

    • Talking about the suitability of various job openings

    • Evaluating teaching and research presentations

    • Prepping them to answer potential questions raised by members of the search committee and ask appropriate questions during the interview

Mentoring Junior Faculty

  • Valuable resources are invested when junior faculty are hired and it is important to nourish them, retain them, and help them develop into productive faculty members

  • Guidance can be provided through formal or informal mechanisms

  • Senior faculty and department leadership can help set the tone and agenda for mentoring junior faculty and helping them mentor their own students

The Mentor as Skills Consultant

  • As a mentor, valuable skills that you can help students develop and hone include:

    • Communication skills

    • Teaching

    • Writing grant proposals

    • Planning and organization skills

    • Obtaining professional credentials

    • People skills (the ability to listen, share ideas, and express oneself)

    • Leadership

    • Teamwork

    • Creative thinking

The Mentor as Role Model

  • By who you are, by what you say, and how you act as a mentor, you can be a role model for students and provide them with a personal window on a possible future

  • Your ethical, scientific, and professional behavior all leave a strong impression on students, as does your attitude about your work

  • Communicate your feelings about your professional career

  • Communicate the importance of mentoring and your hope that they will some day be mentors themselves

  • Talk with your students about how you balance work and personal life

Take-Home Messages

  • The sum of all your actions as a mentor is what students take with them as they move on in life

  • At its core, good mentorship involves building honesty, trust, and good communication with students

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