Dear UNL Graduate Students and Graduate Faculty Members:

An important part of the mission of the Office of Graduate Studies is to improve the quality of the graduate student experience. To that end, we spend a considerable amount of time listening to graduate students about their concerns and their suggestions for improving their graduate experience. Over the past several years, a common theme has emerged — graduate students' desire for effective mentoring.

Of course, many graduate students don't receive as much mentoring as they would like for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that most of us face many varied and competing demands. Given these challenges, we believe both students and their mentors share responsibility for improving the quality of such support. There is no substitute for a healthy relationship between mentor and protégé; this is the key to successful mentoring.

This guidebook reflects UNL's recognition of the important role mentoring plays within graduate education. Its purpose is to promote effective mentoring by describing the key elements, roles, and stages of development associated with it along with practical strategies for nurturing rewarding relationships. Because mentoring is a two-way street, this guidebook is aimed at both faculty mentors and graduate student mentees.  Mentoring is key to success for all of those involved in graduate education, and we hope this guide will be a helpful resource for faculty, students, and staff alike.

The themes and recommendations outlined in this guidebook derive from several respected sources. First, we consulted resources and materials from our peer institutions and adapted many aspects of mentoring handbooks developed by the Rackham School of Graduate Studies, University of Michigan, and the University of Washington. Their themes resonated well with our own campus experience. We also drew on findings from national studies and initiatives, such as the Re-envisioning the PhD project and the Woodrow Wilson Foundation's Responsive PhD Initiative. Also, we drew on insights from UNL students, faculty, and staff who have participated in UNL's Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) program.

The Office of Graduate Studies will continue to sponsor opportunities for faculty, students, and staff to promote a learning environment of excellence. We hope you will use this guide as a tool to reflect on and plan for your mentoring experiences, and to share your ideas with your peers, professors, and colleagues. We invite you to add your voice to those reflected in this guidebook by sharing your thoughts with us by sending email to Join us as we continue to discuss and address the role of mentoring in graduate education.

We wish you every success as you engage in the challenging and rewarding experiences of higher education.

Your Friends in the Office of Graduate Studies

Photo of faculty and students


In Greek mythology, Mentor is a friend of Odysseus and tutor of his son, Telemachus. On several occasions in the Odyssey, Athena assumes Mentor's form to give advice to Telemachus or Odysseus. Mentor's name is proverbial for a faithful and wise advisor.

Further Information

For further information about the guidebook or other issues related to mentoring of graduate students at UNL, contact the Office of Graduate Studies at 402-472-2875.


We thank the University of Washington for their generous permission to adapt their guidebook for graduate students, How to Obtain the Mentoring You Need.

We also thank the Rackham Graduate School at the University of Michigan, for permission to use portions of their handbook How to Get the Mentoring You Need: A Guide for Graduate Students at a Diverse University, which also served as the original basis for the University of Washington's guidebook.

How to use this guidebook

Students express the desire for good mentoring, regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, age, nationality, social class, disciplinary interest, or departmental affiliation. The need is universal: good mentoring helps all students learn more successfully.

The concept of mentoring has gained currency in recent years as a means to improve the productivity and effectiveness of the many individuals engaged in the graduate education enterprise. This increased attention has revealed that many of our day-to-day understandings of mentoring are often limited. Many people assume that good mentoring "just happens" naturally or is only for those who are "lucky enough" to stumble upon the right individuals to guide their intellectual and professional development. Good mentoring, however, is not a matter of luck. It is a matter of awareness, intention, and a genuine desire to succeed.

The sections in this guidebook walk you through the concepts, planning, strategies, and tools that facilitate meaningful mentoring relationships.

Section II. Mentoring in a Dynamic Learning Community lays a foundation for understanding the nature of mentoring and how it is similar to, and different from, advising. Here you can explore the basic definition and qualities of good mentoring, the benefits of mentoring to you and your mentors, the changing graduate student population, and the various roles and responsibilities you and your mentors have. This section also stresses the importance of seeking multiple mentors.

Section III. Thinking about Your Mentoring Needs offers practical strategies and concrete recommendations for establishing and maintaining effective relationships with your mentors.

Section IV. Getting Started on Your Mentoring Journey helps you lay the groundwork for building great relationships with your mentors. Its focus is on helping you clarify the mutual interests you share with your mentors, as well as your expectations of each other.

Section V. Common Themes Among Graduate Students explores some common concerns about the graduate experience shared by a large number of students and offers advice about how mentoring can help you address and resolve them.

Section VI. Mentoring Needs in a Diverse Community expands your understanding of the personal, demographic, professional, and historical factors that may influence your goals and challenges, both during and beyond the graduate experience.

Mentoring Resources provides sample worksheets to help you and your mentors implement the strategies and recommendations discussed in this guidebook. It also provides a list of further readings to expand your knowledge of mentoring and professional development.

We hope this guide serves all members of our graduate community — graduate students, faculty, departmental graduate chairs and assistants, heads of departments, schools and colleges, and our central administration — as a useful starting point for enriching mentoring as part of the graduate student experience and for ensuring vitality in graduate education at UNL.

Opening lines of communication

Talking regularly about issues beyond research or coursework, examining the multiple roles of a professional in a particular field, or jointly exploring funding avenues and future job possibilities are hallmarks of mentoring that many graduate students describe as high priorities.

The recommendations in this guidebook draw attention to useful concepts that will help students and mentors engage in productive and timely communication. This guidebook also addresses biases, assumptions, and perceptions that hinder such communication and offers ways to eliminate or minimize their negative effects on your relationships with mentors.

No single formula for successful mentoring exists, but we do know that frank and mutual exploration of expectations and interests should be the focus of the first meetings. While this guide cannot provide the answer to every question or scenario that may arise, it does address the factors that influence students' mentoring needs and suggests effective ways students and mentors can promote learning and professional development.

Mentoring resources

Use the resources on this page to help you and your mentors make the most of your mentoring relationship.

You're on your way!

Obtaining good mentoring is one of the best investments you can make with your time in graduate school. It takes effort and patience in the beginning, but the returns are great and will have a positive impact on you for many years after graduation.

Good mentoring will give you the edge as you prepare to enter the profession of your choice. Not only do good mentors help you gain solid knowledge and skills — more important, they help you maintain a positive attitude and acquire the self-reliance you need for embarking confidently on your path to success. Remember, many graduate students will follow in your footsteps. You, too, will mentor many others over the course of your professional life, whatever your career trajectory. The mentoring relationships you establish now will directly and indirectly benefit numerous individuals and institutions down the road. On this wonderful journey, we wish you every success!


Use these to help define your expectations, set goals, plan meetings, and move forward with your professional development.

Further Reading

Adams, H.G. (1992). Mentoring: An essential factor in the doctoral process for minority students. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame, The GEM Program.

Anderson, M.S. (Ed.). (1998). The experience of being in graduate school: An exploration. New Directions for Higher Education, 26(101), Spring 1998. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Antony, J.S. & Taylor, E. (2004). Theories and strategies of academic career socialization: Improving paths to the professoriate for black graduate students. In D.H. Wulff, A.E.

Austin, and Associates. Paths to the professoriate: Strategies for enriching the preparation of future faculty (pp. 92-114). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Basalla, S., & Debelius, M. (2001). So what are you going to do with that? A guide to career-changing for MAs and Ph.D.s. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Bellows, L.H., & Perry, A. (2005). Assessing graduate student mentorship and development. Unpublished manuscript.

Brainard, S.G., Harkus, D.A., & St. George, M.R. (1998). A curriculum for training mentors and mentees: Guide for administrators. Seattle: Women in Engineering Initiative, WEPAN Western Regional Center, University of Washington.

Brown, M.C., Davis, G.L., & McClendon, S.A. (1999). Mentoring graduate students of color: Myths, models and modes. Peabody Journal of Education, 74(2), 105-118.

Chandler, C. (1996). Mentoring and women in academia: Reevaluating the traditional model. NWSA Journal, 8, 79-100.

Chao, G.T. (1997). Mentoring phases and outcomes. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 51, 15-28.

Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy. (1997). Adviser, teacher, role model, friend: On being a mentor to students in science and engineering. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press [On-line]. Available: readingroom/books/mentor.

Daloz, L.A. (1999). Mentor: Guiding the journey of adult learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Damrosch, D. (1995). We scholars: Changing the culture of the university. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Faison, J.J. (1996). The next generation: The mentoring of African American graduate students on predominately white university campuses. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (New York, NY, April 8-12, 1996). ERIC Document # ED401344.

Frierson, H.T., Jr. (Ed.). (1997). Mentoring and diversity in higher education. In Diversity in Higher Education, v. 1. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.

Gaff, J.G., Pruitt-Logan, A.S., & Weibl, R.A. (2000). Building the faculty we need: Colleges and universities working together. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Gaff, J.G., Pruitt-Logan, A.S., Sims, L.B., & Denecke, D.D. (2003). Preparing future faculty in the humanities and social sciences: A guide for change. Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools.

Gaffney, N.A. (Ed.). (1995). A conversation about mentoring: Trends and models. Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools.

Goldsmith, J.A., Komlos, J., & Schine Gold, P. (2001). The Chicago guide to your academic career: A portable mentor for scholars from graduate school through tenure. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

Gray, G. (2000). Producing results: Effective management and mentoring in academic labs. AWIS Magazine, 29(1), 14-18. Gross, R.A. (February, 2002). From 'old boys' to mentors. Chronicle of Higher Education [On-line]. Available:

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Hoyt, S.K. (1999). Mentoring with class: Connections between social class and developmental relationships in the academy. In A.J. Murrell, F.J. Crosby, & R.J. Ely (Eds.), Mentoring dilemmas: Developmental relationships within multicultural organizations. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Johnson, W.B. (2003). A framework for conceptualizing competence to mentor. Ethics & Behavior, 13(2), 127-151.

Johnson, I.H., & Ottens, A.J. (Eds.). (1996). Leveling the playing field: Promoting academic success for students of color. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kochan, F.K. (2002). (Ed.). The organizational and human dimensions of successful mentoring programs and relationships. Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publications.

Lark, J.S., & Croteau, J.M. (1998). Lesbian, gay, and bisexual doctoral students' mentoring relationships with faculty in counseling psychology: A qualitative study. Counseling Psychologist, 26(5), 754-776.

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Mintz, B., & Rothblum, E. (Eds). (1997). Lesbians in academia: Degrees of freedom. New York: Routledge.

Moss, P., Debres, K.J., Cravey, A., Hyndman, J., Hirschboeck, K.K., & Masucci, M. (1999). Toward mentoring as feminist praxis: Strategies for ourselves and others. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 23(3), 413-427.

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Nerad, M. (1995). Beyond traditional modes of mentoring. In N.A. Gaffney (Ed.), A Conversation about mentoring: Trends and models. Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools.

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