two students and a laboratory technician wearing lab coats in a laboratory
Clarifying and Aligning Expectations

Previously: Mentoring Before the Program Begins

Your mentee will be forming a set of expectations about you and the project before the program starts. Effective mentors help to shape those expectations by reaching out early to start a dialogue with their mentees. Early dialogue allows the mentor to gauge the mentee’s skills and interests, be transparent about the work the mentee will do, and discuss the characteristics of their working relationship. Mentoring compacts can be especially useful in this regard. They allow the mentor to convey background information about their research area, the norms and culture of the department or research team, and what to expect in regards to campus community and culture. Remember that it is still important in a virtual setting to make sure that the mentee receives valuable information about the site they are working with that can help them make decisions about graduate school and other future opportunities.

Mentee anxiety is common in mentor-mentee relationships. (Allen et al., 2010) You can ease some of that anxiety by getting in touch with your mentee before the start of the program. Doing so also provides you the opportunity to learn more about your mentee’s research interests, personal background, and any constraints they face by working from home. Likewise, your mentee will have the opportunity to learn more about you and your research, which will put them in a better position to hit the ground running when they arrive. This will also give you both a chance to bond over the unusual situation of conducting research in the context of social distancing. During those conversations be sure to assess any gaps that you think may arise between your mentoring style and what you anticipate your new mentee’s strengths and needs to be. Activities that can help shape these initial conversations can be found in Entering Research. (Branchaw, Pfund, & Rediske, 2010) As Dr. Ruth Gotian writes in The Mentoring Match, “the style of mentoring has to match if the partnership is to be fruitful.” If you think the fit could be improved, take the opportunity to make adjustments to your style, tailor your mentee’s project, or be in touch with a colleague, postdoc, or graduate student who can help out in a team-oriented way.

Action Items

  1. Connect with your mentee over the phone or via Zoom if you have not already done so.
  2. Share your feedback plan and communication plan.
  3. Complete and share your mentoring compact (of which your feedback and communication plans may be a part).

Up next: Project Fit