Is A Mentor Different Than An Advisor?
A faculty member may function simultaneously as mentor and advisor. The roles are not mutually exclusive; however, they do occupy different positions. As a faculty member, you may find that you move between these two positions depending on the needs of students and your own availability.
Advisors are people who are willing to share their knowledge and give specific feedback on one's performance; they also take a role in helping students understand and adhere to the protocols of completing their degree. This may include, but not be limited to, an orientation to the department and its policies, establishing an individualized education program (IEP), and understanding their research requirements within the larger contexts of the university. The advisor also provides information about other programs of study and their requirements, departmental or other sources of employment (as AIs or RAs), and works with the school and the Graduate School to ensure that all degree requirements are met.
Several faculty members may play a formal role in advising an individual graduate student. The director of the thesis or dissertation is one key person who has specific duties including offering timely feedback to students in response to verbal questions or written projects such as drafts of theses or dissertations. Other key people include the faculty, sometimes assigned upon acceptance to a program; and the Director of Graduate Studies, the person knowledge about and responsible for the rules and procedures applicable to the student’s degree programs.
Mentors, however, are more. In most cases, they are not assigned but sought out by the student based on common research or other interests. Mentoring goes beyond advising. It is a supportive, nurturing professional relationship that develops and changes as the student progresses through the academic program. Mentors facilitate the academic career of graduate students’ journeys by serving as a guide and coach. They help integrate students into the academic and professional culture of their disciplines. And, by considering the multiple contexts of student’s experiences and identities, they also assist students in navigating those contexts with as little harm as possible and with as many tools and resources as possible.
Successful mentoring relationships are wholistic and take into account the external/internal contexts that may shape students as human beings. For example, these may include, but not be limited to: race, gender, sexuality, nationality, socio-economics, religion, abilities. Mentors in such relationships take into account the multi-dimensionality of students and the intersectionality of their lives, for example a graduate student may also be an instructor or a parent. Such relationships may arise serendipitously, perhaps from a course the student takes or a shared interest; from a student’s awareness of a faculty member’s skills or research; or from a student’s need for personal support outside their department.
Finally, a student may have a number of mentors (see mentoring map), each of whom provides information about different aspects of the student's academic and professional life.
What Are the Basics of Being A Good Mentor?
How a faculty member mentors may be shaped by their own mentoring experiences. What a graduate student expects from or needs from a mentor may also be shaped by their mentoring experiences. When these experiences meet each other, it is important for both faculty and graduate student to communicate clearly the contexts that have shaped them, the reasons they pursue research, and why they have committed to pursuing an academic life.
While dialogue about these issues take time to develop before, during, and after a mentoring relationship is formed, there are some basic principles that can guide faculty intentions as they create mentoring relationships with their mentee.
- Be supportive. Engage in ongoing conversation: make sure the student knows that you care and are willing to take the time to talk about a variety of topics. Both professional and personal topics may be discussed. In the case of the latter, if you are uncomfortable talking about the personal or specific personal topics, be certain to disclose this to the student in your initial meeting. When meeting with the student, actively listen and reflect back to them what you have heard them say. Ask questions for clarification or more information. Share your own experiences as an academic without centering them in the conversation. Encourage the student to begin trusting their own knowledge and abilities, confidence and independent thinking. Remember: trust is built on honesty and a willingness to share information, and to clearly articulate your expectations about each other, the research, and the purpose of the mentoring relationship being created.
- Demystify graduate school. Once you have agreed to be in a mentoring relationship with a student, use your first meetings to learn about their previous academic experiences, their reasons for attending graduate school, and their goals during the completion of their degree. Discuss various aspects of their academic program. Ask the student about their concerns and about what they would like to know. Discuss with students both the explicit, implicit, and hidden curricula to which they may/may not have access or awareness. The academic advisor should explain the rules and procedures governing the degree, but the mentor should give the student insight into 'how things work' in the department - not so much what has to be done as how to do it successfully. Introduce the student to more advanced students or to peers as a way of integrating the student into the department. Suggest departmental, school, and university activities in which the student should participate; explain how and why these activities may be beneficial for the student. Invite the student to accompany you at key activities. If you are comfortable doing so, consider meeting outside your office or off campus in a public place such as a coffee house or the local library.
- Provide honest and constructive feedback. When meeting with the student to review progress in the graduate program and specific projects, provide honest and constructive feedback. If you have developed a set of agreed upon accountability steps, refer to these as a way to remind the student of the plan you co-created at the beginning of the semester. Revise this plan as needed. When providing feedback, keep in mind any conversations you have had with the student about how they communicate and the types of information they like to receive. When necessary, offer the students resources that might be helpful: Writing Tutorial Services, Social Science Research Commons, GradGrants, and the librarian responsible for their discipline.
- Provide professional encouragement and support. Support the student’s entry into their profession and the development of their scholarship by regularly discussing coursework, research interests, changes, successes, and challenges; sharing information, books, and journal articles; and encouraging participation in relevant publication and conferences, and those that might expand the student’s interests. Share your knowledge about the profession. If you work or collaborate with the student, discuss your expectations: how polished you expect work submitted to be, how (and how quickly) you will provide feedback, how intellectual property is shared and co-authorship is credited. Help the student form professional networks.