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Mentors: Part I

A good mentor can make your education easier. We all know how isolating the college experience is and how this is exacerbated for first generation college students. Entertaining graduate school is probably one of the scariest things that most college students will do. The process seems mired in the unknown and one of the best ways to navigate this journey is with a good mentor or two.

Your mentor might be a peer mentor—someone who is a year or a few years ahead of you. You might not even realize that you’re getting mentored and the friendship or working mentor/mentee relationship might work well. You might also find mentors among your professors or co-workers. And, these relationships might spawn naturally from the classroom environment, office hours, and other meetings at the university.

Sometimes students will actively seek a mentor and other times the faculty member might pay attention to you and offer her/his mentorship. Either way it is born—try and nourish it. A healthy mentor/mentee relationship is going to mean that you keep in contact with your mentor. This might be the occasional email or appointment. You’ll need to see what works for the two of you.

Some words of advice for grad students:

If you are in the process of writing a thesis, project, or dissertation, you need to keep in contact with the Chair of your committee. This is a common faux pas that graduate students will make. Usually your Chair really wants you to finish and be successful. Most faculty are over-extended when it comes to sitting on students’ committees and the most successful students are the ones who finish. And, these students tend to keep the lines of communication open. This might mean admitting that you’re suffering from writer’s block, imposter syndrome, working a “regular” job, stress or family life is the priority. Just be honest.

Some words of advice for undergraduates:

If you’re in a department that offers graduate degrees, most faculty view the graduate students as the students who have the priority for mentoring. These are the students we can ask to complete research work with, co-author with and get more “service” credit with for our mentoring. Yes, faculty get credit when they Chair a committee or fund graduate students. There is usually an understanding that mentoring graduate students takes more time and work. What this might sound like is that there is a hierarchy—faculty might want to mentor graduate students more. Well, this just might be the case at your institution. If you’re at a small liberal arts college and few graduate degrees are offered, then you are in luck. The faculty will definitely have a mandate to work with and mentor undergraduate students.

Another word of advice for the undergraduates, sometimes the mentoring/mentee relationship just doesn’t work. It might be that you and your tentative mentor don’t click or that your mentor is not good at mentoring. Walk away and don’t give up. There is bound to be another person who will want to listen to you and help you as needed. This is not the rule. I am merely speaking from my 13 years of teaching and even more years as an undergraduate and then graduate student through my four degrees in university.

I’ve found that one of the first steps with mentoring undergrads or graduate students is listening. And, then offering my advice to the student as needed. I’ve also found that occasionally a student is not interested in getting mentored. Some students realize a year or two later that they could use my assistance and others a year after graduation. That is fine. I’m an email or office appointment away.

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