Expectations for Mentors
The role of the mentor begins with the application. Mentors should help students formulate an interesting and viable project, vet the student’s application, and provide a letter of support.
Over the summer, the faculty mentor guides the student’s research. The Summer Scholars Program has a full slate of workshops and activities that provide students with community and support, and we also have various steps to help students pace their research progress. The students in the Summer Scholars Program thus do not rely entirely upon their faculty mentors. The faculty mentor, though, is someone with research expertise and content area knowledge, so the mentor can provide more precise guidance in terms of formulating research questions, locating sources, formatting data, etc.
Faculty do not need to be on campus all summer to serve as faculty mentors. We recognize that summer research, and even a holiday, can take faculty off-campus. In-person meetings with students are of course ideal, but in this day of long-distance collaboration and telecommuting there are a variety of modes for faculty to mentor student projects. We leave the particulars of the mentoring relationship to individual faculty members, although we do ask that you communicate steadily with students in some form throughout the 10-week session.
Below you can find more specifics about responsibilities and tips for mentoring summer scholars.
Before the summer:
- Work with the student to design a project (or a task within your own project) that best suits their goals. A successful project will draw on the students’ interests and academic/career aspirations, as well as your own areas of specialty.
- Define clear expectations for the project. What would qualify as a successful project for you? Many students, especially in the sciences, will get anxious over “failed” experiment results, even if those results are interesting and publishable in their own right.
- Define clear expectations for your working relationship. Explain what you expect from the student, and ask what help and support they expect from you.
- Decide when and how you will meet or communicate with your student. Establish a schedule of meetings, and stick to it. You will likely need to meet frequently in the beginning stages of the project, and less often as the students get their bearings. Meetings can be in person, via webcam, or even via email if necessary. Let your student know the best way to reach you, and when you will be unreachable. Let the student know this schedule so they do not panic when you don’t reply. Please make sure to be honest with your students about your availability, so that they do not expect more out of you than you can give.
- If applicable, consider providing articles or references about the previous and current research related to your project before the start of the summer, so that students can leap in once the program begins. Also consider offering any required training or orientations early. It might be useful to instruct them in lab protocols, or to show them how to use online databases, before the summer begins.
- Be prepared for students to begin working when they arrive, and have things ready for them to do. Do not worry about overburdening these students – they have been selected because of their exceptional academic record. You can always adjust the workload later on if they seem to be struggling.
During the summer:
- As applicable, set up a working schedule. When will your student be giving you written work? How will they structure their time and scholarly activities?
- If you have a larger lab, you may want to delegate some of the direct supervision of your student to a graduate student/postdoc/lab technician, so that they have a closer mentor to turn to for everyday questions. Please be sure to clarify to both the supervisor and the student that you are still the primary faculty mentor, and please still try to meet with the student about once a week so that they also have a close relationship with a professor.
- Encourage your students to attend activities (both academic and social) hosted by the lab/department/program. Summer sessions can be isolating for undergraduates, and it is important to involve them as much as possible.
- Work with your student on their presentation for the end-of-summer Symposium. You might have comments on the content as well as the presentation form itself. This is a great moment to mentor students on professional presentations – what makes an effective poster, what is the best way use PowerPoint, how do you pace and time a conference talk, how do you prepare for Q and A, etc. (If there are any findings that you do not want your students to present at the Symposium — for example, if you are waiting for a patent or want to publish your research before it is made publicly available – be sure your student knows that).
After the summer:
- If possible, showcase student work within your department through newsletters, hanging posters or photographs, research talks, etc. This can inspire other students to engage in undergraduate research as well!
- Encourage your student to disseminate the results of their research at meetings, conferences, competitions, and through publication. The Undergraduate Research Program offers conference travel awards in the Fall and Spring semesters, and maintains a list of research journals that publish undergraduate work.
- Encourage your student to disseminate the results of their research at meetings, conferences, competitions, and through publication. The Undergraduate Research Program offers conference travel awards in the Fall and Spring semesters, and maintains a list of research journals that publish undergraduate work, available near the end of our External Opportunities page.
If at any time in the process you have questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact the Undergraduate Research Program office. We are happy to help!