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Mentoring Manual


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.
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It is important to remember that socializing needs boundaries. Boundaries can be different for different cultures, backgrounds and at various institutions. For example, the boundaries between students and faculty at an undergraduate institution of 1,000 to 2,000 students may be very different than the boundaries between students and faculty at a research institution with 25,000 to 50,000 students. It is a common misconception that one’s own experience and boundaries are the same for everyone else as well.  All parties, undergraduates, graduate student mentors, post-doc mentors, and faculty mentors need to be aware and careful of the differing expectations for these boundaries. In particular, graduate students, post-docs, and faculty who are new to their position may need to adjust their view of boundaries, for their new role as a mentor.

Graduate student, post-doc and faculty mentors should be careful to maintain appropriate boundaries with students. It is important to keep socializing on a professional level. It is critical that mentors maintain a relationship that enables them to provide constructive and objective feedback to students. There is a level of social engagement that can seriously compromise one's effectiveness as a mentor.

Most institutions have established policies to guide faculty and students in these matters. It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with such policies and to find out where and to whom you can direct your questions about them. In some cases, an understanding of social boundaries has been incorporated into the norms of institutional or departmental culture and may not be obvious to a newcomer. Asking colleagues directly about such norms can provide the new mentor with critical information that may not appear anywhere in writing.

The Wayne State University School of Medicine Department of Physiology offers insightful guidelines for student mentor relationships as a powerpoint presentation that could be viewed by an entire research group.

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Camaraderie is one of the hallmarks of an effective research group. By contrast, some research groups are run on intimidation and fear, but these groups usually experience difficulty attracting or keeping students.

Research groups often have a more informal and flat hierarchy than one might experience in industry. Going to lunch, grabbing a coffee, having dinner, playing Frisbee are activities, often unplanned, that happen with students at the undergraduate or graduate level, post-docs and faculty. One faculty member described his research group as “we would work hard in the morning, play some rugby after lunch and then go back in and work hard in the afternoon.” Another faculty member would go to her lab to have lunch -- that lab always seemed to fill up at lunch time with students from other labs also coming in for the camaraderie.

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