Dear Faculty Relations - I am overwhelmed by one of the many new (to me) aspects of this job. I’m in the second year of my tenure-track position and am now primary advisory to two doctoral students, one in their first year and one in their third. I feel like I was JUST in their shoes (and really, I was, having gone straight from completing my Ph.D. to my current position). I understand this is not unusual, but I’m feeling lost and want to do a good job. Can you share some tips? – Advisee to Advisor Flip
Dear Advisee to Advisor Flip - We understand, and have been there ourselves. It may help to read a brief article or two, such as these from Science or Nature, which share what graduate mentees report looking for in mentoring relationships, particularly in STEM fields.
These resources are pretty helpful in terms of some “don’ts.” For example, never assume that a new graduate student is “ready to go” and does not need your active support in learning to be a scholar. At the same time, your job as a mentor involves the challenge of scaffolding and attention with the clear end goal of helping your mentees gain the knowledge and skills they require to succeed in their own careers.
Change in the dynamics of a mentoring relationship is central – we begin supporting a novice to our field with the goal of helping them learn the content, skillset, and often “invisible” curriculum of becoming a successful scholar. This is even more essential when your mentee is from a minoritized or underrepresented group. For example, a graduate mentee who is also a first-generation college graduate may have little information on what to expect from you as a mentor.
A healthy graduate mentoring relationship must involve clear communication and the development of trust. It may also be helpful to recognize that we, as mentors, are also learners, both improving our skill set in this area and, literally, learning new content and ways of knowing from our mentees. This is an essential aspect of your job: Your mentees’ success is, in fact, one measure of your own!
Finally, a reminder that you are not alone. The Graduate School provides extensive mentoring resources, including a Graduate School Advising Agreement. Feel free to reach out to me as a sounding board for other ideas firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Mimi Engel, Faculty Director, New Faculty Development, Office of Faculty Affairs, and Associate Professor of Research & Evaluation Methodology, School of Education, January 2023