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Mentoring Manual

Recruiting a mentee for graduate school

A summer placement can be an exceptional opportunity for you and the mentee to interview each other for graduate school. If you have identified the student as a good prospect for graduate school in your research group or your department, then start early to build a relationship that develops beyond the placement. If you are not able to recruit the student to graduate school, then there is always a post-doc or faculty position to recruit her or him for at a later time. You can do this by maintaining a professional mentoring relationship beyond the initial placement.

Talk directly to the students about your interest in seeing them attend graduate school in your research group or department. Be specific, describe what they have demonstrated as a unique contribution to your research group. Make it clear from the beginning of this discussion that you would understand if they don’t have an interest in your research group. This allows the student to be more honest with their response. There may be a misperception on their part that is generating the disinterest. If you can get to speak of this honestly, then you have a chance to correct their perception. Consider the following:

  1. Introduce the student to other faculty so that the student can see that there is more than your group to consider.
  2. Ask the student to describe what they think graduate school is. If there are misconceptions, then helping them correct them can help them consider graduate school, and also further establish you as one of their critical mentors.
  3. Talk to the student about the value of prestige compared to fit in selecting the institution or person that they choose to be their faculty mentor.
  4. Talk about the types of reference letters that serve you and your colleagues well when making a decision regarding admission to graduate school.
  5. Talk about how admission decisions are made. For example, some departments admit a class of students and others admit students that each faculty member chooses. These differences suggest different approaches.

Offer to continue to check in and provide advice once they have returned to their home institution. While the student may choose a different university for graduate school, maintaining this connection will help you in the next stage, recruiting them to your department as a new assistant professor. Never underestimate the time-line for recruiting!

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Beware of biases

A study by Trix and Psenka (2003) reveals systematic differences between letters of recommendation written for women versus those written for men. Language and the perception of language may create and reflect biases when evaluating program candidates.

In The Architecture of Inclusion: Advancing Workplace Equity in Higher Education, Sturm (2006) outlines a comprehensive approach to rethinking institutional roles in supporting and promoting workplace equality. It may be useful to consider the role of your faculty and your institution in supporting program diversity.

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