Getting the Mentoring You Need

An important ingredient in your academic success and your professional development is the mentoring and guidance provided by faculty. In addition to helping you develop knowledge and skills, a mentoring relationship helps you navigate your degree program and understand expectations, supports your socialization into the field, increases your sense of belonging in a community, and helps you prepare for future careers. Mentoring can also boost research productivity, keep you on course for completing your degree in a timely manner, and contribute to better mental health and overall well-being.

Establishing a mentoring relationship

Some graduate students come into their programs knowing who their main advisor or mentor will be. Others make that decision after course work is complete or after several lab rotations. No matter how it works for you, create proximity with potential mentors to become familiar with their manner of interacting with those they mentor. Take courses from them, read their published work, speak to their students, see where their students get situated professionally. Set up a time to meet with potential mentors to see if they are taking on new students and discuss how a mentoring relationship could be mutually beneficial.

What can you expect of a mentor?

There are resources for faculty that would be useful for students to review, so you can be a better advocate for yourself. In 2006 Berkeley’s Graduate Council established a list of Best Practices for Faculty Mentoring of Graduate Students. Review this document to see campus expectations for faculty mentorship of graduate students. Steps faculty can take to mentor well, based on focus groups with graduate students, can also be found in the document Mentoring Graduate Students: A Checklist for Faculty.

A list of qualities of good mentors and what good mentors do has been articulated by graduate students and faculty at our workshops and can be found here: Qualities of a good mentor.

In addition to research mentorship, faculty also play an important role in mentoring graduate students in teaching. Since the early 1990s Berkeley’s GSI Teaching & Resource Center has worked with faculty and GSIs to articulate what constitutes good mentoring of GSIs in teaching. The results of these conversations can be found in the document Teaching with GSIs: A Checklist for Faculty.

Your responsibilities as a mentee

The success of mentoring relationships depends not only on faculty but also on you as the mentee, as these relationships are reciprocal. As one graduate student stated: “I see now that there are lots of ways that I can improve the [mentoring] relationship by being assertive and proactive and by setting explicit expectations for myself and for the relationship.” Here are a dozen specific steps you can take to get the mentoring you need:

  1. Be intentional in seeking out a mentor and in establishing a mentoring relationship.
  2. Gather information from other graduate students and former graduate students about their mentoring experiences with specific faculty.
  3. Be clear on your expectations. Faculty and graduate students who share the same expectations for the mentoring relationship generally fare better than those who do not.
  4. Set realistic deadlines for your work and be sure to meet them.
  5. Respect professional boundaries.
  6. Come prepared for meetings. Articulate what you need from your mentor.
  7. Write up notes after each meeting and provide your mentor with a summary.
  8. Start the next meeting off with a summary of the last meeting.
  9. Be clear about your professional goals and share those with your mentor.
  10. When seeking feedback, be specific on areas you would like input on.
  11. Be open to and learn from constructive criticism.
  12. Develop multiple mentoring relationships. No mentor can serve all of your needs.

Other qualities of good mentees and steps you can take to maintain productive mentoring relationships have been articulated by faculty and graduate students in our workshops and can be found here: Qualities and behaviors of productive mentees.

Additional Resources to assist you

Take a workshop offered by the Graduate Professional Development Program that addresses how to get the mentoring you need as a graduate student and how to be an effective mentor.

Read Getting Mentored in Graduate School (Johnson and Huwe, 2003), the text we use for our course, GSPDP 301, Mentoring in Higher Education. This text has excellent sections on qualities and behaviors of mentored graduate students. Take the protégé self-assessment included in the text to assess your viability as a mentee and understand the qualities of mentored and unmentored graduate students.

Identify areas in which you may need to improve to make you a more productive mentee and set goals for improvement using our Mentee Goal-Setting Form.

Take GSPDP 301, Mentoring in Higher Education, a course offered by the Graduate Student Professional Development Program each spring.

Additional Readings on Mentoring

Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend: On Being a Mentor to Students in Science and Engineering. National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1997.

Brunsma, D.L., D.G. Embrick, and J.H Shin (2017). “Graduate Students of Color: Race, Racism, and Mentoring in the White Waters of Academia.” Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 3(1) 1-13.

“How to Get the Mentoring You Want: A Guide for Graduate Students.” Regents of the University of Michigan, Rackham Graduate School, 2015.

“How to Mentor Graduate Students: A Guide for Faculty.” Regents of the University of Michigan, Rackham Graduate School, 2015.

Johnson, W. Brad and Jennifer M. Huwe. Getting Mentored in Graduate School. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2003.

“Mentor and Graduate Student Strategies for Success.” University of Louisville, Graduate School, Prepared by the Graduate Council, 1998-1999.

von Hoene, Linda. “Getting the Mentoring You Need.” Graduate Division, University of California, Berkeley. February 16, 2017.