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Mentoring Undergraduates

Mentoring Undergraduates

McNeese State University Faculty Retreat
8 August 2012
Definition:  men·tor ( -noun):
(1) a wise and trusted counselor, teacher or guide
(2) an influential senior sponsor or supporter
Synonyms:  adviser, master, guide, preceptor, tutor, teacher, counselor &

Best Practices in Mentoring*

  • Invest time.  A commitment of time reflects a mentor's genuine interest in student success. A student must also devote sufficient time to his/her work.
  • Communicate often.  While e-mail is a quick and efficient method of communicating, the most effective communication is sitting down face-to-face and discussing the project.
  • Provide encouragement. Give frequent, speedy, and consistent feedback and address problems directly and promptly.
  • Write it down.  Encourage a student to develop a written plan for completing the project. The plan should include deadlines. Mentors should be aware of students' progress.
  • Follow the rules.  Educate students about ethical research practices, especially if a project requires an institutional review.
  • Build respect.  A successful mentoring relationship is founded on mutual respect between mentor and student. 
  • Take students seriously.  A question or problem that seems trivial or irrelevant to you might not be, or it might mask a more serious issue.  Listen carefully.
  • Don't dictate answers.  Suggest various "road maps," but allow students to choose the destination.
  • Be frank and direct.  Let students know what you can (and cannot) offer in the mentoring relationship.
  • Help students develop self-esteem.  Provide praise as well as suggestions for improvement.
  • Invite other mentors.  Acknowledge that no single person can fill all a student's needs.
  • Address fears without belittling.  Try to understand/Know about a student's money worries, low self-esteem, fear of failure, parental pressures, and doubts about belonging.  Don't wait for fears to grow into problems that might cause a student to stumble or even leave your program.
  • Meet on "neutral ground."  Don't always meet in your office; a student might be more comfortable at a laboratory bench, local cafeteria, or jogging track.
  • Explain expectations of the undergraduate research project.  Make sure your student knows what is expected for project completion and success. 
*From materials prepared by Ohio State University Graduate School, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Graduate Council, Rackham School of Graduate Studies - University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, University of Toronto School of Graduate Studies, Council of Graduate Schools, and National Academy Press.

References for Mentors

  1. Advisor, 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), National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.).  Size: 96 pages, 6 x 9, Publication Year: 1997
  1. This guide offers helpful advice on how teachers, administrators, and career advisers in science and engineering can become better mentors to their students.  It starts with the premise that a successful mentor guides students in a variety of ways: by helping them get the most from their educational experience, by introducing them to and making them comfortable with a specific disciplinary culture, and by offering assistance with the search for suitable employment.  Other topics covered in the guide include career planning, time management, writing development, and responsible scientific conduct.  Also included is a valuable list of bibliographical and Internet resources on mentoring and related topics.
  1. Single copy, $24.95; 2-9 copies, $17.50 each; 10 or more copies, $16.95
  1. The PDF for this text can be found at record_id=5789.
  1. Books/Articles/Reports from the Council on Undergraduate Research, 734 15th St. N.W., Suite 550 Washington, DC 20005, Ph: (202) 783-4810, Fax: (202) 783-4811,   Email:  For information visit:
  1. Science in Solution: The Impact of Undergraduate Research on Student Learning by David Lopatto, $17.00 ($15 for members ordering online)
  1. Advancing Undergraduate Research: Marketing, Communications, and Fundraising by Joyce Kinkead, $22.00 ($20 for members ordering online)
  1. How to Mentor Undergraduate Researchers (2010 Edition) by Louise Temple, Thomas Sibley and Amy Orr, $12.00
  1. Reading, Writing & Research: Undergraduate Students as Scholars in Literary Studies edited by Laura Behling, $22.00
  1. Transformative Research at Predominately Undergraduate Institutions edited by Kerry Karukstis and Nancy Hensel
  • Should you wish to receive a complimentary paper copy of this publication, please order online and pay for only shipping.