Mentoring undergraduate students enriches faculty research.
Cultivating a productive mentoring relationship is a joint responsibility between mentor and student. The Office of Undergraduate Research and Fellowships offers support to faculty mentors seeking to make the most of their mentoring relationship.
It is often helpful to begin a mentoring relationship by creating a mentoring action plan that outlines the roles, responsibilities, and expectations of the mentorship. In addition, mentors might consider what their own goals and objectives are and articulate some learning activities that they hope to provide to the student, a list of topics or questions they would like to discuss, and desired outcomes for the mentorship. Some possible functions of a mentor include:
- Giving objective feedback and practical suggestions
- Facilitating a student’s self-reflection on their progress and goals
- Guiding a student’s problem-solving and decision-making processes by asking insightful and open-ended questions
- Connecting a student with valuable opportunities in the discipline
- Serving as a role model for academic and professional speech and behavior
Letters of reference play a central role in the decisions of review committees. Below are a couple of key points to help make your letter as strong as possible:
- Length: Reviewers often consider the length of a letter to be an indicator of its strength. In most cases, letters should be longer than a single page.
- Examples: A letter should include specific examples of a student’s abilities that highlight the student’s exceptional qualities–try to avoid generalizations or clichés. Also, be sure to specify for how long and in what context you know the student.
- Detail: With regard to describing a top student, it is best to include comparative detail. For example, rather than stating that this is one of the strongest students with whom you have ever worked, you could write that this student falls within a certain percentage of the top students with whom you have worked over the past ten years.
- Emphasis on unique characteristics: A letter should not focus on those characteristics that would be expected from any excellent student. It is assumed that fellowship and scholarship applicants are top students who excel in the classroom. Rather, the letter should emphasize what it is about a student that makes them unique and stand apart from other competitive students.
Researchers have found that participating in a shared activity with a student develops a stronger relationship than simply discussing problems. When planning mentoring activities, you could consider:
- Attending presentations, lectures, or conferences together
- Having the student assist in research or other projects
- Attending networking events
- Introducing other faculty members or campus visitors who might be beneficial to the student
- Attending career development seminars
Mentoring is a key practice through which educators can create learning environments that are inclusive, welcoming, and supportive of students from diverse backgrounds and life experiences. Here we have collected resources that can help mentors do the work of actively creating an affirming educational environment.
- Northeastern University Center for Advancing Teaching and Learning Through Research (CATLR), Diversity and Inclusion Tips
- Modern Language Association, Antiracist Resources for Your Teaching
- Council on Undergraduate Research, Put it In Action: Diversity and Inclusion in Undergraduate Research (recorded webinar; see tab below for access)
- The National Academies, The Science of Effective Mentorship in STEM
- Brown University Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning, Inclusive Mentoring
- #STEMforBLM Anti-Racist Resource List
- Bala Chaudhary and Asmeret Asefaw Berhe, Ten Simple Rules for Building an Antiracist Lab (PLOS Computational Biology, October 1, 2020)
As Northeastern University’s leading researchers and mentors, we would like to remind you that you are eligible to sign up for a complementary membership to the Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR). This membership provides access to the CUR members-only website, which contains information on funding resources and undergraduate research events and celebrations. Members also receive an electronic subscription to the CUR Quarterly, a highly regarded journal that focuses on topics related to undergraduate research. After you enter your name and title, please be sure to select Northeastern University from the drop down menu. The form should alert you to the fact that your membership fees are waived by virtue of our enhanced institutional membership, and then it will prompt you to continue to add your contact information.
- Johnson, W. B. (2007). On Being a Mentor: A Guide for Higher Education Faculty. New York, NY: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
- Johnson, W. B., & Ridley, C. R. (2008). The Elements of Mentoring. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Mullen, C.A. (Ed.) (2008). The Handbook of Formal Mentoring in Higher Education: A Case Study Approach. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc.
- Shea, G. F. (2002). Mentoring: How to Develop Successful Mentor Behaviors. Menlo Park, CA: Crisp Learning.
- Wright, W. C. (2004). Mentoring: The Art of Relational Leadership. Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster Press.
- Zachary, L. J. (2000). The Mentor’s Guide: Facilitating Effective Learning Relationships. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, Inc.
- Northeastern University Center for STEM Education, Mentoring Resources
- University at Albany. Mentoring Best Practices: A Handbook.
- University of Wisconsin Institute for Clinical and Translational Research. Research Mentoring: Cultivating Effective Relationships.
- Wake Forest University Mentoring Resource Center.