Student: How to be a good protégé

Having thoughtfully established a mentoring team, you must then maintain these relationships in a professional manner. It is imperative to show by your attitude and actions that you are a responsible junior colleague. Faculty have offered the following tips on how to be a good protégé.

Be efficient in your interactions with faculty

  • Arrive on time for scheduled meetings.
  • For each meeting, be prepared with an agenda of topics to discuss and prioritize them so you ask your most important questions first.
  • At the conclusion of the meeting or through e-mail, summarize any agreements you have reached. Also restate what you will be doing and what the professor committed to doing for you. Ask for a response if there is any disagreement with anything you have stated.
  • If your mentor is facing a work emergency at the time of your meeting, offer to reschedule, shorten the meeting, or handle the matter via e-mail. Be flexible, but stay committed to getting what you need in a timely manner.
  • If you need to cancel a meeting, make sure your message reaches the professor. (Don't rely only on e-mail, since many people don't check e-mail regularly.)
Papers, proposals or creative works
  • Seek the professor's input once you are confident you have a presentable draft. Be sure to proofread the document carefully. If you have doubts about the quality of your work, ask a friend to read your paper first. Ideally, this person should be familiar with both the professor and the topic so s/he can make remarks about the content and style.
  • Do not ask professors to re-read an entire paper if only certain sections have been revised. Instead, mark the new or edited sections by underlining them, putting them in boldface, or by using a different font.
  • It may be useful to create or join a group in which students present their work to each other for feedback.
Recommendation letters
  • Provide updated copies of your curriculum vitae.
  • Leave clear written instructions as to when the letters are due and to whom to send them.
  • Attach a stamped and addressed envelope for each letter. If you have several letters, create a calendar for your mentor that lists application deadlines.
  • Provide a short description about the fellowship, grant, or program for which you are applying.
  • Provide details about how you are structuring your application and what points you would like your mentor to emphasize.
  • Submit these materials with enough advance time for your mentor to write a letter.
  • In case the professor misplaces the application materials, keep extra copies of all forms.

Take yourself seriously

Make the transition from thinking of yourself as a bright student to seeing yourself as a potential colleague.

  • Attend departmental lectures and other activities.
  • Join professional associations and societies.
  • Attend conferences and use these opportunities to network with others.
  • Seek out opportunities to present your work (in your department or through outside conferences, publications, performances).
  • Attend teaching workshops and discipline-specific pedagogy classes.

Receive criticism the right way

A core part of intellectual work is exchanging ideas and debating their merits. You need to accept criticism of your work in a professional manner. Accepting criticism does not mean agreeing with everything that someone says about your work; rather, it reflects your willingness to consider and evaluate the merits of other points of view. If you disagree with certain criticisms, you should defend your ideas in a professional style, by saying, for example, "Thank you for sharing your perspective. Although I understand the reasoning behind your view, I would like to explain why I disagree..."

Let mentors know you appreciate their advice

Be sure to let your mentors know you value the time they spend with you and that you use their input productively. After reading books or making contacts your mentor suggests, talk about the results of what you learned, perhaps via e-mail or in a subsequent meeting. You should not feel compelled to follow every bit of advice you receive, but do inform your mentors when their advice is particularly helpful, even when it leads you in an unexpected direction. When you share this information constructively with your mentors, it is a sign of your collegiality and growth.

Be responsible

Update your mentors about your progress and your struggles. As one faculty member said, "Take charge and own your education." Never give the impression that you are avoiding your mentors.

Respect boundaries

Although friendship is not a necessary component for mentorship, friendships between faculty and graduate students can and do develop. This can be especially true with junior faculty who may feel they have more in common with graduate students than with their new faculty colleagues. Although such relationships can have lifetime benefits for both parties, some faculty have voiced concerns about potential problems that can arise. Sometimes it is more difficult for graduate students to accept criticism of their work from faculty they consider to be their friends.

  • Be mindful that although you may have a friendship with a particular faculty member, a hierarchical arrangement still exists. One can even say it exists for your benefit since your faculty mentors need to be critical in order to help you do you best work.
  • Do not be tempted to drop in on professors for casual conversation without their approval each time. Periodically check to see whether you are overstaying your welcome.