Mentors provide undergraduate student researchers an opportunity to engage in research activities that help them learn about the pursuit of knowledge within an academic discipline. This early exposure to research fosters a valuable academic experience for students. In addition, mentors can gain significant contributions to their research through this unique mentoring opportunity.
Tenure-track professors, research professors and post-doctoral researchers from the CU Boulder or CU Anschutz campuses are eligible to be mentors. While graduate students, PRAs, etc. are not eligible to be mentors, they may serve in a day-to-day supervisory role. The undergraduate’s work must directly contribute to the mentor’s scientific research and the mentor must provide some direct mentoring to the undergraduate. Mentors are expected to assume the primary responsibility for ensuring that the student has a quality experience.
BSI expects mentors to:
- Support the student in preparing their application.
- Design an appropriate project that will allow the student to test a hypothesis, develop research skills and gain in-depth knowledge in a scientific area.
- Provide the appropriate training in conducting the proposed research.
- Ensure that the student is appropriately certified as needed (i.e., Animal Research, Radiation, HIPAA, etc.)
- Create a comfortable working environment and promote a positive working relationship
- Provide ongoing oversight and regular feedback to student researchers.
- Support and reinforce BSI policies with respect to their award, including attending trainings, and the requirement that students present their work.
- Review and approve the student’s timecards as pay is earned (1st time applicants only).
- Provide a midterm progress report and end-of-term evaluation.
- Contact the BSI office right away if there is a student concern; our goal is to help you resolve issues quickly.
This is a summary of key points to remember when designing a research project for undergraduates.
- Identify a project with a clearly definable goal and scope that can be reasonably attained within the time-span of the research experience.
- Whenever possible, include your students in the formulation of the underlying hypotheses and experimental design.
- Students should be supplied with background materials to familiarize them with your field of research as well as your lab’s research goals and techniques.
- Your student should conduct work that relates to a specific aim of the research goals of your lab.
- It is important that your student understands the project’s relevance to the broader scientific goals of the lab, as well as the lab’s overall contributions to its scientific field.
- Do not assign a project that depends on a single technique, given the possibility that the technique may not work.
- Select projects that are already funded, and that the materials, facilties, etc. are available.
- During the academic year, projects should average about 10 hours a week, in the summer, students cannot exceed 40 hours per week.
Please review these tips for creating a positive partnership for yourself and your mentee.
- In most cases, students will be working on a small aspect of your overall project. The more the student knows about the goals of the project, the role their part plays in the overall project, and the background information for the project, the more invested they will be in the work.
- Set clear expectations for their part of the project, including what tasks you will be giving the student and why. Develop timeline of project goals.
- Establish your expectations about schedules, when and where you expect the student to be, what they should do if they are not able to come in or realize they have an exam or other conflict. For example, how much in advance do you expect to be notified? And through what means (e.g., email or a phone call), and who specifically they should contact?
- Set up regular meeting times with your student to touch base, review progress and performance, answer questions, etc.
- Help students to ask questions and to ask for help. This is an important skill, and often hard for students, especially as the newest member of the research team. Remind them that you welcome questions.
- Critical feedback is essential to spur improvement, but do it kindly and temper criticism with praise when deserved. Make sure it is timely.
- Are students required to attend at lab meetings, to present at lab meetings, and/or attend journal club meetings?
- Engage them in conversations about their current academic experiences and their career interests.
- Introductions - who are the people in the lab and their roles, particularly who will be regularly supervising them if not yourself
- Setting - acquaint them with the physical layout of the lab and building
- Reference manuals/current protocols - where are these located
- Lab rules - review lab policies and rules (explicit and implicit)
- Lab notebook - review procedures and importance of good documentation
- Safety - review safety issues specific to your lab/project and be a good role model
- Background materials - provide background readings that help the student understand the broader context of the project.
- Training - specify what training(s) the student will need
- Maturity is still developing
- Course load and exam times (may limit availability)
- Different ability levels and skills. Varied levels in student knowledge (based on coursework completed thus far)
- Less flexibility in scheduling
- Different comfort levels in approaching someone for help
- Cultural and gender differences that influence student-mentor relationship
- Time management skills may be underdeveloped
- Unfamiliar with culture of research science
Make sure you choose students who are enthusiastic about the content of the project. It isn’t always the student with the best grades or test scores who make the best student researcher. Often it is the student who is most excited about the project and perhaps has some personal connection to the content.
- How/when did you become interested in science?
- What is your major and what are your future career plans?
- Why do you want to do research and is it related to your career goals?
- What would success in this research program look like to you?
- Do you have any previous research experience? If so, what did you do? What did you like about it? What did you dislike about it? How do you learn best (e.g., hands-on experience, reading literature about a topic, verbal explanations, process diagrams, etc.)? (*Note – BSI Scholars are not required to have research experience. You may want to talk to them about work they have done in lab courses)
- Do you prefer to work alone or in groups? What kind of group or collaborative work experience have you had?
- Do you have any questions about the research in the lab?
- How many hours per week do you expect your mentee to work in the lab (AY 10 hrs./week average, summer no more than 40 hrs./week)? Are there specific times of day that you expect your student to be in the lab?
As the sponsor mentor, do you have the time to work with this student? And if designating someone else, do they have time?
Graduate Teaching Program – Offers workshops related to teaching; however, many topics are relevant when working with students in the lab. Overall the program is designed to enhance the professional development of graduate students.
Faculty Teaching Excellence program – Offers workshops and publications for faculty, which might be helpful.
Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) – The goal of RCR education at CU-Boulder is to inform all individuals engaged in the research process about the key issues, current standards, and best ethical practices.
Referring Students for Jobs, Internships, or Graduate School – CU Student Employment Handbook
Discrimination and Harassment Policy and Procedures (Please note: All employees are required to take this training, including student employees. BSI Scholars have been directed to take this training.)
Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend: On Being a Mentor to students in Science and Engineering (online book)
Council on Undergraduate Research – Supports undergraduate research at universities throughout the country and provides resources for faculty and students through conferences and publications.
Mentoring Undergraduates in Summer Research Programs- Leadership Alliance
The Mentor’s Guide: Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships by Lois J. Zachary
Entering Mentoring – A Seminar to Train a New Generation of Scientists by Jo Handlesman, Christine Pfund, Sarah Miller Lauffer and Christine Maidl Pribbenow The Wisconsin Program for Scientific Teaching – supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professors Program
Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend – On Being a Mentor to Students in Science and Engineering National Academy Press
University of Michigan Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program