Grad Student FAQ
Graduate Student FAQ
“I’m a graduate student/postdoc in the sciences, and I’ve heard about this emphasis on mentoring an undergrad, but I’m worried about the time involved. Is there a way I could try this out for a defined period of time, and then decide if I want to continue?
The OUR maintains a very flexible Database of Research Opportunities for undergraduates that would allow you to describe both the opportunity and the timeframe that works best for you. You can request certain majors or all majors, and limit the experience to certain semesters or the summer months. You can post positions for course credit, payment, or volunteer. All science departments have mechanisms to award the course credit, although the details vary among the departments (the students can find out the mechanisms that are appropriate for their major). The OUR receives inquires regarding research opportunities from undergrads at all stages of their college experience, including very well-qualified seniors who are eager to contribute to original work. Such students might be ideal if you want your involvement to have a defined end point.
I’m a graduate student in the English department. My scholarship, and that of my colleagues, is a solitary endeavor. Why might I consider mentoring an undergraduate?
Graduate-undergraduate mentoring relationships in the arts & humanities are certainly less common than those in the social or natural sciences, although they have proven to be most beneficial to both the mentor and mentee. Mentors have cited practical benefits including preparation for comprehensive exams, and a conscious look at the steps associated with becoming a professional involving the scope of the work and its relationship to the work of others. These mentors felt that they accelerated their own “professionalization” by advising others who wished to enter the discipline. One mentor spoke of the satisfaction he derived from helping to “shrink the campus”. In his view, engaging undergraduates in serious scholarship helped them to appreciate the deepest purposes of a research university, thus contributing to a more interactive community.
I don’t have any easy way to get to know any undergraduates (e.g. just arrived on campus/ work in a professional school without an undergraduate program/ formal responsibilities do not include teaching undergraduates…). How can I find undergraduates who might be interested in working with me, especially students who might be willing to make a long-term commitment (> 1 year) so that we can each benefit from the personalized instruction I will be providing?
The OUR maintains a very flexible Database of Research Opportunities for undergraduates that would allow you to describe both the opportunity and the timeframe that works best for you. You can request certain majors or all majors, and explain that applicants willing to make a long-term commitment would be preferred. You can post positions for course credit, payment, or volunteer. All science departments have mechanisms to award the course credit, although the details vary among the departments (the students can find out the mechanisms that are appropriate for their major). The OUR receives inquires regarding research opportunities from undergrads at all stages of their college experience, including entering students with considerable research experience from high-school programs (including students from the NC School of Science and Math, who may even have won national awards for their work). Such students might be ideal if you want your involvement to continue over several semesters.
I’m a graduate student/postdoc in a social science discipline. I am really interested in mentoring an undergrad because I think I am best suited for a career at a primarily undergraduate institution, and I know that such supervisory experience will help me when I go out on the job market. However, my faculty advisor is opposed to the idea because of (e.g. the time not spent on my thesis work/ the sensitive and specialized nature of the work we are doing with our study population that is not appropriate for undergraduate involvement…). Is there anything I can do?
You might want to talk with other faculty you know (perhaps faculty on your committee) and explore the possibilities for mentoring an undergraduate with them, especially if the projects lend themselves more readily to undergraduate involvement. Many faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences enjoy working with graduate students and postdocs in the professional schools on multidisciplinary and/or interdisciplinary projects with undergraduates. You might also consider serving as a “Graduate Research Consultant” in a course in which you could contribute your research expertise. Both of these experiences would be valuable preparation for your intended career, and if you develop a good plan for how you intend to accomplish the “multi-tasking” so that your thesis research is not neglected, your faculty advisor is likely to recognize the long-term benefits to you.
Where can I read more about learning to be an effective mentor?
The OUR Director, Associate Director and the graduate assistants have published articles about the role of mentoring in graduate education, and collaborations involving graduate students that introduce research experiences in courses (link to chapter). Copies of these and other relevant articles can be obtained by visiting the Publications section of this website. In addition, the HHMI has published a handbook on learning to mentor.