Student: Heed good advice

Finding suitable mentors for any new endeavor requires openness, patience, persistence, and creativity. As you continue to refine your vision of the mentoring you need throughout the various stages of your professional development, rely on the following basic advice for cultivating productive mentoring relationships.

Be proactive

The graduate faculty-student ratio at UNL may be unlike that of your undergraduate experience, especially if you studied in a smaller academic setting. At a large research university, you may need to take extra initiative to seek out interactions with faculty members. You should approach professors openly, as colleagues, and initiate discussions. If your personality, upbringing, or cultural background makes you less comfortable with direct approaches, visit professors during their office hours to initiate contact.

Seek out multiple mentors

Identify and cultivate multiple potential mentors. Rarely is one individual the perfect mentor for all of your educational and professional needs. Having multiple mentors increases the likelihood you will obtain the assistance and support you need from a range of expert sources — your "team." Multiple mentors can be faculty members within or outside of the University, departmental staff, current graduate students, alumni, and other professionals in the community with special knowledge or abilities related to your academic and career goals.

Develop realistic approaches to mentors

Invest time in assessing what you need from your mentors and then ask for that assistance clearly and professionally. It is more effective to request specific kinds of guidance than to make general requests for mentorship.

Be visible

Understand the importance of being visible in the life of your department. Office and hallway conversations help you build relationships and glean vital information. If you have an office in the department, use it as much as possible. If you have other responsibilities outside the department (such as a family or work), talk to your mentors about creative ways you can remain engaged in regular happenings, such as participating in or coordinating key events or gatherings.

Show commitment to your professional development

Demonstrate in various ways that you are involved in your programs, courses, teaching, research, and service. Professors commonly point out the importance of students "embracing their own work" — an important aspect of professional leadership. Initiate or lead study, writing, discussion, or interest groups among your peers. Asking a peer or a faculty member you admire to co-author a paper, identifying and seeking a grant opportunity, and applying your scholarship to civic concerns also are excellent ways to demonstrate professional commitment.