Set realistic expectations

One of the strongest themes expressed by graduate students, on this campus and in national studies, is the desire for greater clarity about expectations, roles, and responsibilities. When students and mentors have clear expectations of one another, relationships are more likely to be productive, enjoyable, and mutually beneficial.

To prevent misunderstandings, discuss the expectations you and your mentor have of each other, including how they may change over time. Not all mentors and protégés establish formal contracts. Some find formal agreements useful while others prefer to work under informal agreements. See Worksheet 6, Sample mentoring agreement.


  • Be realistic about what any one mentor can do for you, and avoid requesting too much assistance or assistance that is too broad. That is why having multiple mentors is so helpful.
  • Remember that mentors can respond better to requests for specific types of assistance than to requests for general mentoring. Analyze what you need from a given mentor and explicitly ask for those things.
  • Finally, remember that part of your task as a graduate student is to develop and demonstrate your abilities as a colleague and a professional. Discuss with your mentor ways that you can take on more responsibility over time.


  • Be realistic about what you can do for your protégés and help them understand what kinds of assistance they can expect from you. Assist your students in their search for multiple mentors.
  • Analyze what your protégés need and help them develop a productive balance between seeking help from you and taking on more responsibility over time as they develop professionally.
  • Your protégés will differ in their needs and willingness to seek your help, and some may not have a firm grip on their goals or needs. While you should establish standards of excellence and professionalism for all your protégés, adjust your approach depending on the developmental stage of each student.