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Mentoring Manual

Calibrating your mentoring to meet mentor needs

Each student as well as each mentor is unique. Some students are comfortable with autonomy and others want reassurance. Further, some mentors want to be very involved in a student’s experience with multiple informal and formal meetings a week, and some mentors are satisfied with very little contact, sometimes only three to four meeting during the entire field placement experience.

Be careful to not treat an undergraduate student like a graduate student. A graduate student is on a 2-6 year “apprenticeship”, so they have time to understand and adapt to a mentor’s style. If the graduate student needs additional support, they have time to develop support networks. A summer student, typically on an 8-10 week field placement, does not have the time to make such adjustments.

It may be interesting to note that at many companies, a 6 month internship is considered the minimum amount of time. Commonly, the first month or two is considered the training period. So both the intern and mentor expect the final 4 months to be rewarding for both participants. Compare that to a common summer research experience of 8-10 weeks.

There are multiple styles of mentoring. Some faculty members have been known to say: “I was not expected to meet with my mentor more than once a semester, so a student needing more than that is not appropriate.” Other faculty state: “I want to work in collaboration with the student, so I want to be involved in all their work so that it is all done correctly.” A student working with the first faculty member may languish because of insufficient mentoring while the second student suffers because of a faculty member with an intrusive mentoring style, who never lets the student learn from her own mistakes or gain confidence from her own accomplishments. Students and mentors may fail when expectations and desired mentoring patterns are not well matched or appropriately adjusted.

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Preparation for the program

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Short term placements

In a typical 8-10 week placement, the students and mentors have only two to three weeks to orient or adjust to each other’s work styles. In this situation, mentors and students need to adjust quickly. BOTH need to adjust. If you don’t want to adjust, then consider not mentoring. That may be the best decision for you and a potential student.

Consider how many weeks during an 8-10 week placement can go by with the response from a student of “No we don’t need to meet because everything is going as planned.” After two or three weeks of a student delaying a meeting, there may be very little time left to fix a problem.

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During the program

Initiate your relationship by explaining your approach and the reasons. Do not just say that “this is the way it is” or “this is for your own good.” – explain why. Put the discussions in the context of your view of what is required to be successful in future efforts.

If a student wants more of your time than you think is reasonable:

  • Assess their skills to determine if they are (1) missing key skills, (2) missing confidence in their skills, or (3) do not have access to required resources.
  • If they lack skill – consider spending time, helping them find appropriate resources, or changing the tasks.
  • If they lack confidence – consider telling them that they have the skill and that you see them needing to build confidence as a component in the placement. You may not be supporting them as much as they may want, but you are making a conscience effort to provide them with the professional and personal development that they need to be successful.
  • If they lack access to adequate resources - consider taking the time to establish their access to the required resources.

If a student wants less of your time (e.g. to be left alone):

  • Assess their progress. Are they covering up a lack of progress?
  • Are they covering up a lack of confidence to present their work in a meeting?
  • Are they not being challenged enough?
  • Do they need the opportunity to work more on their own?

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