Student Mentees and Alumni Mentors

Mentoring Tips

1. Set expectations: Support, yet challenge, your mentees

Mentors, co-mentors, and students come to the undergraduate research experience with their respective sets of expectations about each other and about the project on which they will collaborate over the summer. Mentors have the responsibility to manage student expectations and to communicate their own expectations about how they will interact with the student. Mentors should define the roles and relationships within the research group for the student.  Finally, mentors should evaluate their mentee’s level of knowledge, skill, and ability and find ways to educate, stimulate, and challenge the mentee through the research project.

2. Be a positive role model

Good mentors are respected by their mentees. A mentee can learn a lot from their mentor simply by watching how their mentor behaves in any particular situation. Good mentors will also look out for experiences, or even create situations in which their mentees can become involved to learn new things.

3. Be genuinely interested in your mentee as an individual

A mentoring relationship is a very personal one, which is often important to the mentee. As a mentor, get to know your student’s academic, research, professional, and personal goals, so you can help them in a way that meets their personal best interest. Additionally, mentors must keep in mind that they are interacting with the whole student. Students come to their research projects with all their other experiences and relationships. If a student is not performing well, seems disengaged from the project, or appears to have other things on his/her mind, the mentor may inquire whether things are going OK. Some students will respond to the invitation to talk, others will not.

4. Share your experiences and insights

Sometimes your role as a mentor can make you seem intimidating to an undergraduate student, thus discouraging mentees from speaking frankly about their problems or asking questions that they fear will seem silly. Mentors can humanize themselves through sharing stories about their own academic and professional journey. Mentors should choose stories that they feel are appropriate and helpful, but do so in a neutral way, without attachment to how your mentee will use this learning. Be open to sharing your mistakes and failures too, as these are often where our biggest lessons are learned. It will also help your mentee be aware that challenges will arise, and the way you dealt with the situation might also help them gain insight about how to build resilience.

5. Ask questions

Asking your mentee open-ended questions will help you as a mentor to identify their real needs, values, and passions. It is also a great way to encourage your mentee to think through situations themselves and draw out the consequences of the various choices or courses of action they can take.

6. Act as a sounding board

Mentees benefit greatly from the opportunity of having a good mentor listen to them. Allow them to explore their thoughts, ideas, and curiosities openly with you. This will often help them unravel their thinking, gain insights about a situation as they share their concerns with you, and develop problem-solving skills.

7. Provide helpful feedback

Repurposed from a Caltech Mentoring Tips webpage.