Tips For Successful Mentoring          

DREU Mentor Participants

Tips For a Successful Mentoring Experience

The tips below are based on the findings of the Learning through Evaluation, Adaptation, and Dissemination (LEAD) Center which has been performing an evaluation of the DMP since 1994.

Overall, the LEAD evaluators identified three key elements of the DMP that were linked to a successful experience for the students:

  1. A mentor who takes an interest in the student's welfare and provides frequent feedback about the student's progress.
  2. A research project that is interesting, challenging, and valued by the mentor's research team.
  3. Immersion in a research-based environment that includes interactions with graduate students.

In addition to the tips listed below, there are a number of excellent mentoring resources available on the web. The publication listed below is an excellent starting point, and it contains references to many additional publications.

Ways to prepare for the students' arrival and reduce start-up time

Given that ten weeks is a relatively short time to complete a comprehensive research project, many mentors commented that to "make the most" of the ten weeks, it was helpful to prepare for the students' arrival in ways that would minimize start-up time. The following strategies were suggested:

  • Contacting the student prior to the program. Many mentors suggested that contacting a student prior to the program to discuss the proposed project would enable them to both assess the student's background and learn her research interests. Following such a discussion, the mentor could decide whether the proposed project was feasible and make changes, if necessary, prior to the student's arrival. Also, the mentor could suggest readings and other things the student could do before arriving that would help her.

  • Helping the student access university services. Setting up a computer account, arranging for an office, and helping the student obtain access to other university services (temporary student identification cards, library cards, etc.) may save start-up time. Many mentors commented that positioning the student's desk or office near theirs or that of their graduate students would involve her more directly in the research team.

  • Helping the student obtain housing. Help finding summer housing is very useful to the students. Many universities have websites or newsgroups listing summer sublets and most have dorms available during the summer. Many DMP students find it convenient to stay on campus, especially if they do not have a car. Often, the student will need the mentor's assistance to find out about these options and to do any paperwork necessary to take advantage of them.

Factors to address when the student arrives and throughout the program

Almost all students have had little or no research experience, and most have not interacted with a faculty member in a cooperative research project. These students hoped to learn more about research and graduate school through their experience in the DMP, and they wanted their mentor to provide direction by:

  • Explicitly defining the nature of mentor-student interactions. Students looked to their mentor to establish the nature and frequency of their interactions. These students wanted their mentor to delineate her expectations, with regard to:

    • The goals and expectations for their research project

    • The nature of the mentor-student communication. For example, whether they will communicate through regular, formal meetings, or whether interactions will be on a casual, as-needed basis.

    • The protocol for acquiring day-to-day project-related assistance. In other words, whom to ask when the student has questions, and when and how to contact the mentor.

    Note: If you plan to have the student work with a graduate student, it may be helpful to have the student and graduate student discuss these same issues.

  • Discussing expectations with the student and providing feedback on her progress. Since the students have little experience with research, they may lack a framework to assess their progress. Discussing with the student what the mentor thinks the student should be able to accomplish over the course of the DMP and providing ongoing feedback about her progress will give the student a framework within which to work, an idea of how well she is doing on her project, and tools for future self-assessment.

  • Judging whether or not the project is within the technical capabilities of the student. Most students enjoy being able to work independently on projects that are challenging and interesting. However, the degree to which they enjoy working independently depends on their knowledge, experience with a particular topic, and comfort level with the unstructured and open-ended research process. Assessing these skills early in the program will help the mentor both in project selection and in assessing the amount of feedback and guidance a student needs. This type of early assessment results in an increase of the students' confidence and independence in their work. Because mentors often cannot assess a student's interest level and background prior to knowing the student, it has been a practice to prepare multiple projects from which the student can choose.

  • Involving the student in the collaborative research process. Almost all students suggested that feeling like a valuable member of the mentor's research team was critical for having a successful DMP experience. By interacting with other graduate students and faculty on a day-to-day basis as an "honorary graduate student," they developed a better understanding of graduate school life and research, had a larger base of support for questions about their project, and felt part of the research community.

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