road in the forest in autumn

Previously: Offboarding and Mentoring After the Research Experience

Mentoring, particularly mentoring along the critical transitions to a research career, is growth-centered. Your mentees, particularly summer research mentees, have the opportunity to grow by conducting research, acquiring critical research skills, and gaining a better understanding of research careers when they work with you. Likewise, you gain new knowledge and develop new skills by working with your mentees. Every serious mentor who goes through the process of mentoring becomes a learner in their own right. We hope this guide nurtures that growth process, whether you are a first-time mentor or a seasoned veteran.

The Leadership Alliance’s successes since the first SR-EIP in 1993 are due in large part to the quality of our mentors, many of whom contributed to the writing of this guide. These mentors consistently emphasized that the benefits of mentoring come with attending to the responsibilities and requirements of being a mentor. The most effective mentors assess their mentees to identify potential areas of academic, professional, and even personal growth; collaboratively develop a shared plan and set of expectations with their mentees; cultivate an environment for growth; pay special attention to eliminating implicit bias, stereotype threat, and microaggressions from those environments; nurture through regular feedback; and instill both confidence and independence in their mentees by exposing them to significant challenges while simultaneously offering rich support.

These activities require a mentor to have time for and be accessible to their mentee, a tractable project that fits their mentee’s interests, and a willingness to prioritize your mentee’s growth. Mentees can and should be challenged in order to grow and they should be supported to an equal degree. In concrete terms, effective summer research mentors set mutual expectations and establish lines of communication early. They take particular care during the first week to set the right tone and make sure the complex onboarding process gets navigated properly, especially concerning bringing their mentees up to speed on their research project and the larger research context into which it fits. They help their mentees with the emotional difficulties of research challenges in addition to the technical ones. They likewise take particular care to integrate their mentee into the research team of which they’ll be a part and the academic community of their host institution. Taking these steps puts effective mentors on a solid footing to foster skill acquisition and independence in their mentees.