In graduate education, mentoring relationships, whether informal or formal, help students to develop both personally and professionally. Mentoring comprises a large part of faculty responsibilities, and many faculty members consider working with their mentees as one of the most rewarding aspects of their career. Most faculty members receive little or no formal training as mentors and develop their mentoring strategies by thinking about their own experiences as students, following examples set by others, and trial and error. In fact, many faculty members don’t explicitly think about effective mentoring and expect mentoring relationships to develop naturally and spontaneously. This expectation is sometimes unrealistic, however, given the complexity of the mentoring relationship. Becoming more intentional about the mentoring process may make it more rewarding and productive for both the mentor and mentee.

Benefits of Mentors

It is well established that being mentored has many benefits for student mentees (e.g., acquiring knowledge and skills, developing techniques for networking and collaborating, and learning how their field operates academically, socially, and professionally). Additionally, research has shown that having an effective mentor correlates with students’

  • Graduate program completion
  • Persistence
  • Increased research productivity
  • Higher career satisfaction
  • Enhanced feelings of self-efficacy
  • Increased recruitment and retention of members of underrepresented groups

▶ How to Mentor Graduate Students
University of Washington Graduate School

▶ Graduate Mentoring Handbook
University of Massachusetts/Amherst

▶ Inclusive Mentoring
Brown University Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning

Definition and Characteristics

There are many definitions and models of mentoring  that can be applied to the faculty/graduate student relationship. The majority differentiate between mentoring and advising. They emphasize that advising entails focusing on program requirements and a student’s progress in fulfilling them.  Additionally, in the context of graduate education, a mentor is often seen as the person guiding or supervising the student’s master’s thesis or doctoral dissertation research. However, mentoring can be conceptualized more broadly, as entailing a wider range of responsibilities and having broader goals.

▶ Mentor Models
Michigan State University Academic Advancement Network

According to the University of Washington guide for mentoring graduate students, in graduate school, mentoring relationships are close, individualized relationships that develop over time between a graduate student and one or more faculty members, or with other professionals who have a strong interest in the student’s educational and career goals. Mentoring includes not only academic guidance, but also prolonged nurturing of the student’s personal, scholarly, and professional development.

▶ How to Mentor Graduate Students
University of Washington Graduate School​​​​​​​

​​​​​​​​​​​Similarly, according to the Duke University Graduate School, for graduate students, a mentor is someone who serves as a guide throughout their professional training; however, mentors are more than that. They provide both professional and personal advice in transitioning into, and out of, graduate school. They give constructive feedback on writing, teaching, and other elements of career design. They can also serve to help students balance professional goals with their personal lives or give emotional encouragement during challenging times.

▶ What Is a Mentor?
Duke University Graduate School

Zelditch (1990, p. 11), an often cited source on the mentoring role, concluded that mentors act as:

  • Advisers: people with career experience willing to share their knowledge.
  • Supporters: people who give emotional and moral encouragement.
  • Tutors: people who give specific feedback on your performance.
  • Masters: in the sense of employers to whom you might be apprenticed.
  • Sponsors: sources of information about and that aid in obtaining opportunities.
  • ​​​​​​​Models of the kind of person you should be as an academic scholar

▶ ​​​​​​​ Mentoring
Northwestern University Searle Center for Advancing Learning and Teaching

Furthermore, in On Being a MentorJohnson (2007)  identified the characteristics of mentoring (p. 21) that indicate the important roles mentors can play in graduate students’ lives:

  • Mentorships are enduring personal relationships
  • Mentorships are reciprocal relationships
  • Mentors demonstrate greater achievement and experience
  • Mentors provide protégés with direct career assistance
  • Mentors provide protégés with social and emotional support
  • Mentors serve as models
  • Mentoring results in an identity transformation
  • Mentorships offer a safe harbor for self-exploration
  • In the context of the mentorship, the mentor offers a combination of specific functions
  • Mentorships are extremely beneficial, yet all too infrequent

▶ Mentoring Graduate Students 
​​​​​​​Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching

Best Practices

The literature on best practices in mentoring suggests that there are common elements in successful mentoring. Integrating the advice from multiple sources yields these recommendations for being a good mentor to graduate students:

  1. Communicate with students
    1. ​​​​​​​Clarify mutual expectations for the relationship
    2. Stay in touch with students on a regular basis
      1. ​​​​​​​Let students know the best ways to reach you (how and when)
      2. Reach out to students who seem troubled or remote
    3. ​​​​​​​Be open, approachable, and seek to build trust and create a comfortable working relationship
    4. Listen carefully and provide constructive feedback
  2. Demystify graduate school processes
    1. ​​​​​​​Make sure students receives information on program requirements, milestones, and policies and understand program terminology
    2. Make the implicit explicit; clarify the vague or unwritten aspects of the program’s expectations
    3. Alert students to pitfalls and hurdles well ahead of time, especially those that might affect their standing in the program
    4. Be familiar with campus resources and assist students in identifying support services
  3. Provide academic guidance
    1. ​​​​​​​Advise student on developing an individual program plan that includes coursework and other academic requirements (i.e., a map of program requirements from beginning to end), as well as a realistic timeline
    2. Provide feedback on timely progress toward meeting degree requirements and address any issues about a student’s ability to progress in a timely manner
    3. Provide feedback and advice regarding academic performance
    4. Educate students about study and time management skills or refer them to school resources that can provide these services
  4. Foster networks and multiple mentors
    1. ​​​​​​​Introduce students to faculty, staff, members of the community, and other graduate students who have complementary interests so they can create a team of mentors
    2. Recommend and help students connect with experts inside and outside of the university
  5. Provide guidance for professional development
    1. ​​​​​​​Advise students on opportunities that will advance their professional development (e.g., presenting at conferences or becoming active in professional associations)
    2. Provide students with professional opportunities (e.g., co-authorship of publications or participation in conference planning committees)
    3. Assist students in identifying sources of financial support for professional activities and research; if appropriate, nominate them for awards or prizes
    4. Assist with preparation of CV and position applications and practice for job or other professional interviews
    5. Advise students on career options; listen to and support their scholarly and professional goals and encourage them in identifying and seeking their own career path
  6. Provide encouragement
    1. ​​​​​​​Reassure students of their skills and abilities
    2. Work with students to recover and learn from setbacks
    3. Help students think through and find creative solutions to academic and professional problems
  7. Consider the entire person
    1. ​​​​​​​Allow student to share information about their personal lives and interests if they desire to do so
    2. Be sensitive to students’ other responsibilities and obligations
    3. Be sensitive to the diversity of student lifestyles, cultures, and experiences and aware of the challenges faced by students from underrepresented groups
    4. Support students’ holistic development and well-being
  8. Act respectfully
    1. ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Give students undivided attention (e.g., avoid allowing the phone or other visitors to distract or interrupt while meeting with a student)
    2. Keep appointments and other commitments
    3. Write letters of recommendations in a timely manner
    4. Keep information shared by students confidential to the extent possible (and discuss the limits to confidentiality)


Resources for Mentors

Several schools have published guides for graduate student mentoring. Although they vary in focus and detail, they all provide specific advice on developing and enacting the mentoring relationship.

▶ How to Mentor Graduate Students: A Guide for Faculty
University of Michigan Rackham Graduate School 

This is the most frequently cited guide to mentoring. In addition to describing the mentor role and providing general guidelines for mentoring, this guide has a section on mentoring in a diverse community and examples of forms to use to develop shared expectations.

▶ Mentoring: A Guide for Faculty
University of Washington Graduate School

This often cited guide has sections on addressing students’ diverse needs, balancing work and lifestyle, international students, race and ethnicity, and students with disabilities

▶ Resources on Mentoring for Advisees and Mentees
Brown University Graduate School 

This site provides links to resources and advice on mentoring students from historically underrepresented groups.

▶ Faculty Toolkit for Graduate Student Mentorship
University of California/Sant Cruz Center for Innovations in Teaching and Learning

This Faculty Toolkit for Graduate Student Mentorship contains links to other guides and handbooks, as well as examples of individual Development Plans and Mentoring Agreement forms.

▶ Mentoring: Tools and Resources
University of Chicago Faculty Development Program

This very comprehensive toolkit includes sections on mentoring remotely, variations of mentoring experiences, and addressing problems or concerns. It also includes a sample mentoring agreement.

▶ A Tool Kit for Effectively Mentoring Graduate Students
Pennsylvania State University Graduate School

This is a Toolkit for Effective Mentoring of Graduate Schools and features a series of FAQs about aspects of the relationship.

▶ A Brief Guide to Graduate Student Mentoring
University of Pittsburgh Graduate Studies 

This Brief Guide to Graduate Student Mentoring for students and their mentors provides practical advice on managing the relationship, including a list of possible topics for mentoring meetings.

▶ ​​​​​​​ Graduate Mentoring Handbook
University of Massachusetts /Amherst 

This Graduate Mentoring Handbook includes examples of formal agreements, guidance for working together at different stages of the student’s graduate career, strategies for fostering an inclusive community, and advice for encouraging resilience and well-being in students.

▶ ​​​​​​​ Faculty Guide to Mentoring Graduate Students
​​​​​​​University of Hawaii/Manoa 

This guide presents detailed step-by-step advice on implementing the various mentoring roles. It has a section on Understanding the Diverse Factors that Influence Students’ Mentoring Needs.

▶ ​​​​​​​Mentoring and Advising
University of North Carolina/Charlotte Graduate School

This source has links to multiple resources on mentoring.

Mentoring Agreements

Some sources recommend that faculty and their students develop a formal mentoring agreement that clarifies and makes explicit their mutual expectations, goals, and parameters for working together.

Individual Development Plan

One of the ways to facilitate career mentoring is to work with students on developing an individual development plan that focuses on steps toward attaining professional goals.

Resources for Mentees

Just as there are lists of best practices for faculty mentoring of students, there are guides with tips for students on how to best work with mentors, which mentors may wish to share with their students.

Advising Statement

This Chronicle of Higher Education article describes one faculty member’s attempt to improve student advising by developing an Advising Statement that provides information about his expectations and policies.
▶ One Way to Be a Better Mentor to Grad Students? Try an Advising Statement​​​​​​​

▶  Dr. Syed’s Graduate Student Advising Statement