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Being a Mentor for Students and Colleagues. HBCU-UP LDI August 12, 2009. Mentor. Ancient Relationship “Wise and Trusted Counselor” by Homer Mentor = Faculty Advisor What is a Mentor?. Mentor . - Advisers , people with career experience willing to share their knowledge;

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Being a mentor for students and colleagues

Being a Mentor for Students and Colleagues


August 12, 2009


  • Ancient Relationship

  • “Wise and Trusted Counselor” by Homer

  • Mentor = Faculty Advisor

    What is a Mentor?


- Advisers, 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 obtaining opportunities;

- Models, of identity,of the kind of person one should be to be an academic.

- Morris Zelditch

Why be a good mentor
Why Be a Good Mentor?

Primary motivation was well understood by Homer: the natural human desire to share knowledge/experience.

Some other reasons:

  • Achieve satisfaction- For some mentors, having a student succeed and eventually become a friend and colleague is their greatest joy.

  • Attract good students - The best mentors are most likely to be able to recruit andkeep students of high caliber who can help produce better research, papers, and grant proposals.

Being a mentor for students and colleagues

  • Stay on top of your field - There is no better way to keep sharp professionally than to coach junior colleagues.

  • Develop your professional network - In making contacts for students, you strengthen your own contacts and make new ones.

  • Extend your contribution -The results of good mentoring live after you, as formerstudents continue to contribute even after you have retired.

Case study projects
Case Study: Projects

I was mentoring an undergraduate student as part of a summer research experience. I explained the project to him and taught him how to make media and grow bacteria. Because he did not have sufficient genetics background for a molecular project, he was given a microbiology project. He was very quiet for the first ten days of the project and then he complained to the faculty member who recommended him about the project. He said he wanted a project like Sharon’s. Sharon was a student with a strong genetics background and her project was to clone and sequence a gene. The faculty member insisted that my mentee keep the project I had designed for him, but the student became sulky. As the summer went on and he didn’t get any of his experiments to work, I began to wonder if he understood what we were doing or even cared about it.

Undergraduate student perceptions
Undergraduate Student Perceptions

If you were the undergraduate

student, how would you feel?

Undergraduate student perceptions1
Undergraduate Student Perceptions

  • Project choice showed favoritism

  • Some projects are “cool,” others are not

  • Some projects are not important to the lab’s larger goals

  • Some projects are slower than others

  • Sharon’s mentor may be better, so the project seems more appealing

  • Other projects may be more collaborative, so they seem more appealing

  • Overall, the student feels insulted and not respected

Faculty perspective
Faculty Perspective

What would you do?

  • What if the student doesn’t like their project?

  • What if the student develops a new project idea?

Possible interventions
Possible Interventions

  • Be flexible

  • Build a molecular element into the project

  • Let the student “grow into” the challenge

    i.e., if you get “x” to work, you can do “y”

  • Let them try other techniques

  • Improve communication with the student

  • Deal with sulkiness early on


  • Establish clear expectations early

    What do you expect from your mentees?

    What do they expect from you?

  • Review expectations often

  • Establish a relationship

  • Define goals of the research project

    Zachary, L.J. (2000). The Mentorユs Guide: Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Inc., Publishers.

Student projects
Student Projects

• Projects should have a reasonable scope

• Projects should be feasible

• Projects should generate data that the student can present

• Projects should not simply include cookbook experiments

• Projects should have built-in difficulties that will be faced after the student has developed some confidence

• Projects should be multifaceted

Concepts techniques and skills list
Concepts, Techniques, and Skills List*

1. Remind them that it is better to ask questions than to make a mistake that could have easily been avoided.

2. General lab safety procedures including:

- Appropriate clothing

- Food and drink in the lab

- Lab coat/gloves/glasses

3. How to find and use helpful reference manuals such as Current Protocols

4. Chemical and biological safety issues including:

- How to dispose of wastes

- How to handle chemicals safely

- How to clean up a spill

- How to handle and dispose of biological materials

Being a mentor for students and colleagues

5. Making chemical solutions; provide guide sheets for: a. Solution preparation

b. Calculations c. Dilutions

6. Literature research skills

7. Basic guidelines for generating graphs and tables

*Molecular biology and microbiology labs

Professor clueless
Professor Clueless Solution preparation

A foreign-born engineering student is reluctant to question his adviser. As a result, the adviser thinks the student lacks a grasp of engineering. The adviser tries to draw out the student through persistent questioning, which the student finds humiliating. Only the student’s determination to succeed prevents him from quitting the program.

Poor mentoring cultural bias
Poor Mentoring: Cultural Bias Solution preparation

The student grew up in a country where he learned not to question or disagree with a person in authority. Had the adviser suspected that a cultural difference

was at the root of the problem, he might have learned quickly why the student was reluctant to question him.

When communication is poor, try to share yourself, listen patiently, and ask the students themselves for help.

Developing maintaining effective mentoring
Developing/Maintaining Effective Mentoring Solution preparation

  • Write your own mentoring philosophy

  • Review your mentoring philosophy periodically to assess implementation

  • Share practices/experiences with colleagues (support group)

  • Learn from your Mentor

  • Use Resources/Materials/Tools

  • Elicit Student Feedback/Assessment

Source Solution preparation

Handelsman, J., Fund, C., Lauffer, S., & Pribbenow, C. (2005). Entering mentoring.The Wisconsin Program for Scientific Teaching.

For PDF version of this book, go to