Skip to Main Content
Pathways to Science: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Search for a program . . . find your future.

Mentoring Manual

How to normalize your expectations

Jump to a subtopic:

Overcoming the challenges of the first two weeks of the placement

Students: The first two or three weeks of a field experience can be the hardest. While there may be long hours and hard work near the end of the placement, the beginning can be difficult because of all the adjustments to a new institution or organization, student culture, and working in new ways that can challenge students' abilities on the very first day.

Mentors: The beginning of a field experience is the most critical time for your presence and attention. Designing an experience where you assign papers to be read and then head off to a conference or vacation for a week or two can be disastrous for the student.

Another common mistake is to not include the student in other work. During these first weeks, in particular weeks one and two, it can be difficult for a student to fill the time with work limited to only their project. Consider having the student shadow other students for some of the time. In one case, most of the lab group and the faculty mentor left for one day to take some measurements, and left the new student behind to read some publications. The justification was that the field measurements were not directly pertinent to the student’s project. However, taking the new student along, even if the student's role was as an observer, would have provided a broader sense of the work and a chance for the student to see her or himself as part of the group. It would have likely encouraged more productivity in the student upon returning to campus.

Mentors must be careful not to confuse the student’s motivation to work with the amount of time spent working. An unmotivated student spending lots of time in the lab can accomplish much less than a very motivated student who is spending less time in the lab, but is motivated and focused and inspired when in the lab.

Whether a student or mentor, consider these suggestions on adjusting to a new environment when structuring program time.

Back to top of page

Acknowledge it can be frustrating

The demands of a field program are similar to those of a graduate program. University of Michigan’s Campus Mind Works provides some helpful insights for dealing with a potentially sudden change in academic performance expectations and workload.

Back to top of page


Socializing is a critical part of the experience – it contributes to or greatly impacts the bonds between colleagues who will work hard together, help each other, and then maintain contact after graduating. For an undergraduate, this can be a critical time to develop insight into the life of a graduate student and faculty member. It also provides times for students to receive informal mentoring on their professional development. Some of the best discussions initiated by a student about his or her future plans may happen when walking to get a cup of coffee.

Back to top of page


Download just the Undergrad section of the manual to share with peers and colleagues