Early on, graduate students learn that advanced study differs vastly from their undergraduate experience. As undergraduates, the goal was to obtain knowledge, while in graduate school the goal is to contribute knowledge to a field of study. Graduate school is the professional training ground where students learn the skills to be successful in their fields and gain an understanding of how their disciplines work.
Research confirms what most faculty and graduate program directors already know: many students enter their graduate programs with little understanding of the complex landscape of higher education or how different philosophies in graduate programs drive expectations for academic excellence and ideal career pathways. In fact, despite very articulate statements of purpose in their applications, many graduate students initially are unsure of what they will do with a graduate degree.
This is not a problem but rather an opportunity for good mentoring. Students' career goals are evolutionary and good mentors assist students with their professional evolution.
Mentoring is important, not only because of the knowledge and skills students can learn from mentors, but also because mentoring provides professional socialization and personal support to facilitate success in graduate school and beyond. Quality mentoring greatly enhances students' chances for success. Research shows that students who experience good mentoring also have a greater chance of securing academic tenure-track positions, or greater career advancement potential in administration or sectors outside the university.
A recent survey of graduate students at UNL revealed that those who had developed mentoring relationships with faculty members were more likely to:
- receive financial support for their graduate studies in the form of assistantships, scholarships, or fellowships
- exhibit greater productivity in research activity, conference presentations, pre-doctoral publications, instructional development, and grant writing.
- experience a higher degree of success in persisting in graduate school, achieving shorter time to degree, and performing better in academic coursework.
(Bellows and Perry, 2005)