Faculty: Basic advice to give your protégés

Mentors, remember that students must invest patience, persistence, and creativity in their search for lasting mentoring relationships. Because there is no one formula for finding great mentors, students always welcome good advice. Reinforce these messages by reminding your protégés of these tips regularly in your classes, meetings, and hallway conversations.


Encourage students to be proactive

Ideally, all students should feel they can approach their professors openly and candidly. But at a large research university like UNL, some students may find the faculty-student ratio quite different from their undergraduate experience and may need to make extra efforts to seek out interactions with professors. In some cases, personalities or cultural backgrounds may make students feel less comfortable with direct approaches. Remind your students that visiting you during office hours is a great way to maintain contact. At the same time, invite your students to suggest other times and places for discussions, or offer them yourself.

Explain the advantages of multiple mentors

Because one individual is rarely able to meet all of a student's mentoring needs, graduate students need to find and cultivate multiple mentors. Mentors can be faculty members within or outside the university. They might be departmental staff, current graduate students, or graduate alumni. They can even be professionals in the community with special knowledge or abilities related to a student's goals. Students with multiple mentors increase the likelihood that they will obtain assistance and support from a range of expert sources — their "team." This approach is especially helpful for students who want to explore diverse career opportunities.

Help students develop realistic approaches to mentors

Students will find that developing mentoring relationships is more effective if they request specific kinds of guidance, rather than make general requests for mentorship. Help your students understand they need to invest time in identifying what they need from their mentors and request that assistance clearly and professionally.

Remind students to be visible

Help your students become aware of the importance of being visible in department life — that office and hallway conversations build and maintain relationships as well as help people glean vital information. If students have a departmental office, encourage them to use it as much as possible. Many students have other responsibilities outside their departments. Help them find creative ways to be visible, by getting involved in key events or gatherings, or taking a leadership role in coordinating certain events each year.

Empower students to take themselves seriously

Graduate students need to see themselves not only as bright students, but as potential colleagues. Talk to your students about the full range of professional activities that build career potential and facilitate that transition: participating in departmental lectures or other activities, joining professional associations and societies, networking at local or national conferences or campus events, and seeking opportunities to present work projects.

Encourage students to be responsible

Students should understand the value of "owning" their education, which includes responsibility for developing a vision of the future and attending to ordinary, everyday details. These details include being prompt for scheduled meetings, preparing meeting agendas, and updating mentors at least once a quarter about their work, progress, and plans.

Encourage students to show commitment to their professional development

Students need to demonstrate involvement in their programs, courses, and research. Many faculty underscore the importance of students "embracing their own work" or "deciding to be the world's expert in a particular area." You can help students show commitment in ways that fit their professional goals and individual circumstances. Talk with your students about the kinds of professional activities they would like to take part in and encourage them to take a lead role in departmental or campus initiatives they care about.

Invite students to receive criticism in a professional manner

Students need to accept criticism of their work in a professional manner. Accepting criticism does not mean agreeing with everything that is said, but rather reflects a willingness to consider other points of view. If students disagree with certain criticisms, it is appropriate for them to defend their ideas in a professional manner.

Invite students to comment on your advice

Help graduate students learn to share information constructively. Sharing different opinions is a mark of collegiality and growth. For example, after students read books or articles that you have suggested, ask them to offer you their reactions. You can also ask students to tell you whether the feedback or advice you give is useful, and how it could be more useful. Remember, students do not necessarily follow their mentors' advice in every instance. In fact, sometimes not taking your advice can be a sign that your protégés are seeking opportunities for thinking on their own, and thus a sign of the kind of growth you are helping them to achieve.