Few aspects of the graduate experience are as critical as the mentor-mentee relationship. Despite this important role, many students may not know how to successfully interact with their mentor and many advisors have not received any training in how to be a successful mentor, especially for students that might come from backgrounds very different than their own. Below we outline a few recommendations for advisors and advisees that are primarily drawn from research based recommendations from the University of Michigan's Rackham Graduate School. The complete write up can be found here. But we emphasize two takeaways here:
Establish the boundaries of the mentor/mentee relationship.
Mentors serve many different purposes and the purpose can even evolve over time. This is why it is important for mentors to work with their mentees to establish the area(s) where the mentor is expected to (and feels as though they can effectively) provide advice and guidance. For example, a mentor might be primarily responsible for advising a mentee on something as specific as appropriate coursework or a slew of related activities including research and teaching practices, professional development, work-life-balance. Establishing the boundaries of the mentor-mentee relationship means that both the mentor and mentee know what to expect.
Here are some examples of areas a mentor can provide advice:
- Model and guide excellence in research, teaching, and service
- Demystify graduate school
- Facilitate professional development
- Assist with finding other mentors
- Model professional responsibility
- Support mental health and well-being
Have a written shared expectations document where you write down the unwritten rules of the relationship. Good communication is key for successful mentoring relationships and a big part of this is establishing shared expectations that document what the advisor can expect from the advisee and what vice versa. This can involve things that are simple as establishing how often to meet, how to communicate (email? phone? Morse Code? carrier-pigeon?), how long to wait for a response. See here for a template of a mentor-mentee shared expectations document developed by the University of Michigan.