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How to Mentor Students

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Throughout your graduate school years, you've spent countless hours honing your research and methodological skills, learning how to think critically, and becoming socialized into your professional role. Think about it: are you really prepared for that faculty position? Most new faculty lament that they are unprepared for a critical aspect of their job: mentoring and supervising students.

It is helpful to consider mentoring from the student's perspective. Consider the difference and role of advisor and mentor. How should students choose mentors? How do faculty view mentoring relationships? Here we discuss tips on developing relationships with students and being an effective mentor.

Make Personal Contact
Engage students in an ongoing conversation and relationship. Say "hello" in the hall and take a moment to ask, "How's it going?" Be available and let students know that they're welcome to visit during your office hours. Make contact at least once each semester. If a student becomes distant or is in danger of falling through the cracks, a simple phone call can help to engage them.

Take the Mystery Out of Grad School
Be familiar with your departmental and university guidelines and remember that new students often are unaware of policies, procedures, and even what questions to ask. Clarify the requirements for coursework, practica, comprehensive exams, research, and teaching.

Provide Feedback
Provide timely, constructive. and supportive assessments of student work. Provide praise, when it is deserved. When students fall behind, engage them in a conversation rather than assume a lack of commitment. Falling behind can signal personal problems, depression, social isolation, and exhaustion. Address potential problems early. Putting problems aside, hoping that they will improve, may be more damaging to students.

Provide Encouragement and Support
Many graduate students suffer from the impostor syndrome. Students often are anxious, insecure, and wonder whether they really belong in a graduate program. Explain that most grad students feel like impostors at one time or another. Share your experience and provide support. Help students by teaching them to break large tasks (like the dissertation) into smaller ones to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Encourage students to talk to you and be approachable.

Support Professional Development
Provide opportunities for students to demonstrate and enhance their competence. Invite students to important meetings and professional conferences so that they can gain insight into the academic environment and gain visibility. Encourage students to make presentations at conferences and to apply for fellowships. Promote your student's work.

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