Mentoring is a relationship — both professional and personal — built on accessibility, approachability, mutual respect, shared power, and effective communication. The availability and quality of these relationships have proven critical in the decisions of undergraduates to pursue an advanced degree. Similarly, effective mentoring maintains an increasingly important role in attracting students — particularly women and minorities — to science. Mentors are a source of not only direction and guidance in research, but social and emotional support.
Mentoring is a process, one that is sensitive to the changing needs and abilities of students as they mature as scientists. It is a process that unfolds in a nurturing environment that encourages academic and personal development. It may begin with a student or a project, but does not necessarily end with either. Indeed, the process of mentoring and the bond that forms between mentor and mentee may continue to build and evolve for years.
Mentoring is an opportunity to train the next generation of scientists and future colleagues. Through involvement in student-faculty research collaboration, undergraduate students learn how to collect and analyze data, cooperate with researchers from different cultural backgrounds, formulate and test hypotheses, and present their findings. Equally important, mentoring provides opportunities for faculty to socialize students into the culture of academia, build students’ professional and academic networks, present at national conferences, and publish in peer-reviewed literature.
The Council on Undergraduate Research provides several resources for faculty that may be used to develop mentoring skills and involve undergraduates in scholarly research.
Are you ready to be a mentor? Post a student research opportunity.
In research, we frequently encounter problems that seem insurmountable, at least in the context of our own abilities and personal experiences. Problems in research encompass issues ranging from implementing an appropriate sampling technique, to applying suitable statistical analysis, and even mentoring student inquiry. As individual researchers, we may be particularly strong in one skill set, but less competent in another. Focusing on our own strengths and weaknesses, we may purposely limit the breadth of our research to our individual comfort zones rather than turn to colleagues for assistance and guidance. Unfortunately, this approach effectively limits the contributions we might make to our disciplines. It also inhibits intra- and inter-disciplinary cooperation, as well as the development and dissemination of solutions to common problems in research. These issues underscore the importance of Communities of Practice (CoP).
A CoP acts as a centralized forum through which members who maintain a common interest can share their experiences and recommendations, as well as ask questions of one another. In this fashion, a CoP promotes shared knowledge and the development of best practices — which, in turn, leads to enhanced efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity. In addition to reducing the learning curve for emerging scholars, CoPs increase the pace of advancement by promoting an environment of collaboration and innovation.
Publishing with students is a rewarding experience. We often forget in academia all the unwritten rules you learn along the way. Having students write with us can help us see those assumptions we make and help them pave a path to success.
Publishing with students is an adventure. It pushes you to reconsider the ways you do research and the tricks you have taken for granted.
It’s an opportunity to work closely with students, to better understand their undergraduate experience, and to help them gain the skills they need to succeed.