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Mentoring Manual

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Guide for faculty

It is critical to remember that most students have not developed the skills to read literature analytically. While reading is a skill that all students will have, reading documents for a research project requires both a skill and context that few have. It is the role of the mentor to ensure that the student has the support to develop the skills, as well as the time to understand the context for the information that they need to pull from literature.

It is critical to be well prepared for the initial weeks of a field placement.  This is typically when reading literature will be the focused activity, and therefore this is the  time to set the tone for how you and your graduate students and/or post- docs will work with your new student(s). It is also extremely important that materials given to the new student(s) are appropriate for their technical level and fit within the context of how they learn.


  1. Preparing:
    1. Ask a student before they arrive if they prefer to start with a global view or a detailed view.
    2. Select literature based on the background of the particular student including what you might know about her or his learning style.
    3. Discuss all the literature with the graduate student and / or post doc who will be supervising the student(s). Identify the key points that students should get from each document. Do not share this list with the student(s).
    4. Plan to be available to provide assistance, daily if possible – so work time into your schedule.
  2. Launching the new student:
    1. Present the literature in the context of what you expect the student(s) to get from the literature.
    2. Ask the student(s) to describe her or his experience with reading literature
    3. You and your graduate student/postdoc can review the techniques that you yourself use to read literature that is completely new. Consider whether such techniques might assist students who are facing a similar situation.
    4. Be specific on what you are expecting from the student(s).
    5. Plan the next formal meeting and when you are available for the student(s) to check in.
  3. Monitoring student progress:
    1. Check in with the student(s) on an agreed schedule.
    2. Ask the graduate student and / or post-doc how the student(s) are progressing. Do the graduate students or post docs need some advice? Do you need to provide more guidance to the new students?

Modify expectations as seems appropriate. You may quickly see that the learning style for the student is different than expected. Maybe it was decided to start with a broad overview, but it is clear that the student wants to focus on detail. Possibly redirect the student to focus on the broad overview or ask the student to read different documents, ones that are more focused on a detail of the planned work.

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Guide for home institution mentor

Often, it is difficult to get students to either ask for help, ask in an appropriate way, or to persevere with the work and ask later. As a person who knows the student’s work and learning style best, you can review the expectations that were provided by field placement faculty and student mentors and make sure that your student understands them. If the student is, or the expectations seem, unclear, you may have the opportunity to coach the student in how to review the documentation and/or how to approach the mentors for additional clarification or guidance. You may be better placed to help the student understand if she/he is not clear what to do. If the student seems to have done a good job and is at the point where she/he needs to discuss the technical content of the document the student may welcome your suggestions and guidance on other documents to read or other avenues to pursue.

Keeping in touch with the student while they away will also make the transition back to your home campus smoother for the student. In addition, many programs have formal mechanisms for involving home institution faculty directly.  If you are interested in participating with a field institution consider contacting them about possible formal partnerships and program activities.

* Additional content is in process.

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