Seeking and Selecting a Mentor

As a graduate student, you willl inevitably need sound advice, encouragement, and celebratory congratulations. The people you’ll turn to are much more than advisors, counselors, or buddies—they’re your mentors, and now is the time to begin building relationships with them.

Mentors play a variety of roles and, according to the Graduate School at Penn State, a mentor is:

• An advisor, who has career interests similar to the student and shares knowledge with the student informally or in the classroom.

• A supporter, who gives the necessary level of emotional and moral encouragement, as, for example, prior to the final oral examination.

• A sponsor, who provides sources of information about research, grant, internship, employment, or other opportunities.

• A tutor, who gives specific, timely, and constructive feedback on performance.

• A model, who is a professional with integrity, thereby serving as a good role model.

There are many things to keep in mind when selecting a mentor, from your needs to the mentor’s availability. The following are some tips from Dr. Sally Koblinsky, University of Maryland, for selecting and working with mentors.

Selecting a Mentor

• Feel out prospective mentors by enrolling in their courses and asking your fellow students about their mentoring experiences with these faculty members. You want to be sure that you will be comfortable working with this faculty member and receptive to his or her mentoring style.

• Confirm that your prospective mentor has current interests that complement your own.

• Ask about your prospective mentor’s ability to provide resources (time, funding, etc.) to support your research and scholarship.

• Consider your prospective mentor’s academic rank, tenure status, current mentoring load, and connections with individuals in the types of jobs you’d like after graduation.

Working with a Mentor 

• Start your mentoring relationship on a positive note by being open and honest from the beginning.

• Let your mentor know how your previous experiences (academic, professional, or personal) are in line with his/her interests.

• Make a plan for how often you’ll meet with your mentor and how best to contact your mentor with questions outside yourscheduled meeting times.

• Be respectful of your mentor’s time. Always arrive to meetings on time and be prepared for meetings with notes from previous meetings, a list of discussion points, and a summary of the work you’ve done since your last meeting.

• Keep in contact with your mentor even when your research progress is slow. Communicate regularly and always ask questions when they arise.

Different Mentors, Different Roles 

• Your primary research mentor may not be able to meet all your needs in a mentoring relationship. Consider seeking multiple mentors who can give you guidance and advice in other areas like teaching and career and professional development.

• An excellent teacher can help you develop your teaching skills through observing and evaluating your performance in a classroom. He or she may
also be able to help you find teaching opportunities in your department, providing you with more opportunities to further strengthen your teaching

• Your career mentor can discuss your career goals and give you advice on professional development. Ask your mentor to introduce you to individuals
(colleagues, potential employers, other professionals) who may be able to help you advance your career. A career mentor can also help you hone your interviewing skills and prepare you for negotiating your first contract.

• Finally, keep in touch with your mentors after graduation. They’ll want to know about your successes and may be able to continue to provide professional and career advice. 

It’s your responsibility to actively seek mentors to support your work and enhance your graduate education. Carefully select mentors that share your interest and can meet your needs, and build relationships based on honesty and trust. Your mentoring relationships will likely continue beyond your graduate education, and you’ll benefit from academic, professional, and personal mentoring relationships that help you become a professional who can, in turn, mentor others.


Koblinsky, S. (2000). Mentoring Advice for Doctoral Students [Electronic version]. Retrieved July 22, 2011, from

Penn State Graduate Studies. (2006). Graduate Student Mentoring: Be More than an Advisor [Electronic version]. Retrieved July 22, 2011,