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The Nature of Graduate Student-Mentor Relationships. What should ideal graduate student – mentor relationships be?. Graduate student-mentor relationships must be: Professional .

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Graduate student-mentor relationships must be: Professional.

These relationships are formed to train students to become competent, creative and independent scientists and teachers.

The mentor is responsible for providing the training environment that will foster these traits. Hallmarks of that environment are rigor, hard work, support, accomplishment, and enjoyment.

Within that environment, students and mentors are not peers . The mentor is the supervisor / trainer / advisor, the student is the person being supervised / trained /advised.

Excessive familiarity or outright fraternization, whether initiated by the mentor or by the student, is a bad idea as it can lead to professional and personal problems.


Graduate student – mentor relationships ought to be:

Mutually respectful.

The mentor is in charge of the lab, but the graduate students in that lab are not “indentured servants”.

It is also essential to remember that students and mentors may be from different cultures, adhere to different religious beliefs, have different political positions, have different personal attitudes and values, or have different lifesyles and commitments. Such diversity can be enriching assuming the differences are respected and not imposed on others.


Graduate student – mentor relationships ought to be: Mutually trusting.

Students should be able to trust their mentors to provide them with the very best and rigorous training possible doing so with fairness and objectivity.

Mentors should be able to trust their students to do their very best to learn their discipline and work as hard as possible on their chosen area of science doing so with honesty and with the goal of becoming an independent scientist.


Graduate student – mentor relationships should be: Cordial.

Mean-spirited, adversarial relationships are never productive.

Maintaining a good sense of humor makes addressing serious matters a little less destructive to the gastric mucosa.

On the other hand, cordial and friendly interactions should not “morph” into inappropriate familiarity or outright fraternization.


Graduate student – mentor relationships can be: Enduring.

When the student-mentor relationship properly matures, an enduring collegial relationship forms.

The collegial nature of the post-graduation relationship can lead to scientific collaborations and lifelong personal friendships.

Even when you become colleagues with your mentor, elements of the student-mentor relationship continue.


Graduate student – mentor relationships require: Frequent and rational discussions.

Irrational, screaming sessions have no place in science, but good communication does.

With all the scientific problems and issues regarding course work and other requirements of graduate school that must be discussed, there is no time for arguments about petty issues.


Graduate student – mentor relationships will involve: Disagreements.

It is said that “without controversy there would be no science”.

Therefore, disagreements about scientific issues are expected.

On the other hand, disagreements of a personal nature are counterproductive.

Finally, all disagreements have two sides and both sides should be understood to produce resolution.


Graduate student – mentor relationships will certainly require:Compromises.

Neither the student nor the mentor will be right all the time.

Mentors have a harder time accepting this than do students.


Graduate student – mentor relationships will sometimes not develop as they should.

When this happens, it is best that the student and the mentor recognize this early and “go their separate ways” doing so with as little resentment, bitterness and anger as possible.

Even when a student-mentor relationship breaks down, both the student and the mentor should behave like the professionals they are.


Graduate student – mentor relationshipssometimes will end very badly.

When this happens, the cause(s) must be determined by someone with objectivity and the authority to handle such matters (e.g., the Graduate Officer or the Department Chair).

Resolution of the problems usually involves hours and hours of emotion filled discussions at many levels of the University and can produce lawsuits, punitive actions and damaged careers.

To avoid all of this unpleasantness, students and mentors must work very hard to identify problems early, have rational discussions, involve the members of the Dissertation Committee and others if necessary, and above all maintain an adult and professional attitude.