The relationship between a doctoral student and his/her advisor/mentor is a special one. Doctoral students rely on their mentors for stewardship and support to develop as independent scholars. Mentors often experience the relationships with their mentees as very rewarding – helping individuals reach their goals, seeding the field with strong scholars, and reaping benefits from the intellectual exchange. Because of the importance of these relationships, clarity of expectations and communication can help develop and maintain a strong mentor/mentee relationship. Towards this end, this document aims to make clear some of the expectations that I have for my mentees, and what my mentees can expect from me.
What I expect from my mentees:
I expect that you and I will both work to communicate our expectations of each other as clearly as we can, to foster a strong working relationship.This includes being frank with each other about our own strengths and weaknesses and their implications for how we can work together most productively.
I expect you to be the driver of your educational experience. I expect you to understand what is expected of you from our program and the graduate school, but to also determine how to best get your educational and professional needs met and to advocate for yourself.
I expect that you will read the Doctoral Student Guidelines, and update yourself on that information at each stage of your program. I can help interpret the Guidelines, but I expect you to take the initiative to review program guidelines first before asking for my guidance.
It is your responsibility to make sure you are following the Guidelines of the program (taking the appropriate coursework, meeting deadlines, etc.). I am here to help you determine how best to do so, but it is not my job to keep track.
I expect that if something is happening in your life that is getting in the way of your doctoral work, you will tell me so that we can problem solve how to get the work done, determine realistic timelines, etc. You can decide how much to share with me—but it may be good for me to know the general scope of your constraints to help you minimize the impact on your professional development and timely progress.
I expect you to let me know when you need to meet with me. At different points in the program, we will have more or less frequent contact. If there is something you need to talk about sooner than our next meeting, you should contact me to set up a time to meet.
I expect that you will be open to receiving constructive criticism of your work – or that you will commit to improve on your ability to learn from constructive criticism of your work. You are a student because you have things you want to learn, and learning from critiques of your work is often the best way to improve. I hope to model taking constructive criticism well.
I expect you to disagree with me. This is your life, your career, and your doctoral program. If you disagree with a comment or suggestion I make, you need to communicate that to me and be your own advocate.
I encourage your feedback. Being a good mentor is important to me. I strive to become a better mentor and individual over time. But I am not perfect, and I will sometimes make mistakes. If I say something that angers or upsets you, I hope that you will let me know so that we can talk about it. One or both of us will likely benefit from that conversation.
I expect you to respond promptly to my e-mails. At a minimum you should generally respond within one business day. More immediate responses are appreciated when possible, particularly when we are communicating about projects that we are moving forward under time constraints.
I expect you to take advantage of opportunities other than those I present to you – for example, attending professional development sessions offered by the graduate school, professional organizations, or institutes and centers on campus. This is a part of you taking control of your professional goals. Upon request, I will be happy to discuss specific opportunities with you to help you think through whether or not they are a good use of your time.
I expect you to work hard towards your professional goals while also working towards a sustainable work/life balance. Both hard work and work/life balance are important to sustaining a successful professional career over the long term.
I expect that we will develop a constructive working relationship that will help to move forward publications and meet other lab objectives. This often means conducting analyses under my supervision and helping to draft sections of manuscripts that you are collaborating on in a secondary role. It also means leading your own analyses and setting up meetings with me to discuss how to move the analyses forward and write up related documents. I expect that you will be motivated to collaborate in these ways in order to develop and fine tune your skills in conducting high quality research.
What my mentees can expect from me:
I am eager to help you achieve your goals, and am committed to doing the best I can to support and advocate for you. I enjoy helping other people achieve their goals, and my mentees are a priority for me.
I will help you navigate your way through the doctoral program. Although you are ultimately responsible for your deadlines and progress, I am pleased to help you interpret the guidelines and plan with you about strategies to get your professional needs met.
I will make time for you. I am very busy with a range of duties, but my mentees are a priority for me. If you need to meet with me sooner than planned, I expect you to contact me and tell me so. You should trust that I will be honest and tell you what I can and can’t do regarding the timing of that meeting.
I do not expect you to be just like me. I am here to help you develop the career that you want for yourself. That may be in academia and it may not be. I am open to you having career goals of various types and am committed to helping you achieve them as best I can. I will be honest with you about the ways in which I think I can and cannot be helpful to you in meeting your career goals.
Life is too short to not follow the path you want. I believe that doctoral programs are not for everyone. If, during the course of your study, you decide that you may not want to continue with your doctoral degree, I encourage you to talk with me about it. There are good and bad reasons for doing a doctoral degree. I am open to you changing your goals and deciding that this is not the right path for you. I am willing to help talk you through your options.
I am not Facebook friends (or other social media) with current students. It’s just my policy.
I prefer e-mail and cell phone as the best ways to reach me. I don’t check my office phone messages consistently.
I try to respond to e-mail within one business day. If you haven’t heard from me within 24 hours, or if it is urgent, please resend your message, as it may have gotten lost in the e-pile. I won’t be offended if you resend the message.
Although I am not responsible for funding you, I will do my best to help you find appropriate funding for your doctoral studies.
I don’t have to be your mentor. If there is someone else who you think would be a better mentor/advisor for you, I am open to having that conversation. Having an appropriate advisor to help you reach your goals is important, and I am committed to helping you achieve your goals, even if it isn’t with me as your mentor. That being said, commitment to the research agenda of my lab will generally be rewarded with funding and with opportunities for co-authorship and lead authorship on publications that would not have been possible otherwise.
I will be honest about the strengths and weaknesses of your work. For better or for worse, I am usually straightforward and direct with my feedback and you can expect that from me.
I understand that my role as mentor changes over time as a mentees needs change, and as a mentee moves towards independence. I will aim for clear communication about my changing expectations of you and you should aim for clear communication about your changing needs and concerns. Towards this end, every spring the Doctoral Program asks each doctoral student to report on his/her progress over the previous year and to highlight plans for the next year. We will use this as a time to thoroughly discuss your progress and plans.
Below is a list of some of the topics that I am prepared to help you with. I can either help you with these topics directly, or can help you find other people or opportunities to get your needs met in these domains. These topics will each become important to you at different stages in your development as an independent scholar. You should feel free to raise a discussion of any of these topics below, topics above, and other topics in our meetings.
- Choosing appropriate courses
- Supervising independent studies, if appropriate
- Developing a qualifying exam topic and proposal
- Developing a dissertation topic and proposal
- Forming and communicating with qualifying exam and dissertation committees
- Finding appropriate TA and PA opportunities
- Applying for funding, as appropriate
- Finding other mentors to help you with topics that are not my strengths
- Finding teaching opportunities
- Developing teaching skills
- Networking with others in your area
- Turning your research into publications developing and submitting the manuscript, responding to reviewers, etc.
- Developing protocols for the IRB for your research
- Developing and practicing research presentation skills
- Preparing presentations and/or posters for professional meetings
- Discussing job options and preparing for the job market
- Brainstorming ideas for time management
- Brainstorming ideas for maintaining work/life balance
- Help you develop attainable goals and a plan for attaining them
- Conducting peer review of research