Mentorship is an essential component when developing scholars, but much of the scholarship on mentorship provides mentors with broad directions about how to successfully execute mentoring relationships. Kram (1988) proposes that mentorship falls within two main channels: career functions and psychological functions. Although this information is helpful in providing mentors with general guidance about what their roles need to encompass, it does not provide specific insights on how they can create and maintain productive and beneficial relationships with their students. I’m currently working on a long-term project exploring best practices in mentoring by gathering data from mentors and mentees, but here I draw on my own experiences to provide some quick pointers on practices my mentor uses that I find helpful.
1. Connect your students with other students.
My mentor uses a nested mentoring model. If you’re interested in reading more about the model see: http://www.culjp.com/blog/portillo-nested-mentoring.
Here, I’ll provide a quick summary about why I think it works. When I joined my mentor’s research team, I joined at the same time as another student, Phyllis*. Having Phyllis made the initial process of starting research much easier. Along with having Phyllis, there were two students who had been working on the project for the past year, Angela and Meredith. The senior research assistants had more experience than Phyllis and I, but they were in our same position not long ago, so they were able to provide a lot of insight on the process and answer questions that we didn’t want to bother our professor with. This structure provided me with support and accountability – two essential components to completing any research project.
2. Tell your students what you actually do at work.
When I started college, I didn’t know that professors had obligations outside of teaching. I eventually learned that professors conduct research, but I still had no idea what the process actually entailed. After joining my mentor’s research team, I quickly figured out that research is a process… a really long process. You have to understand current and past literature, gather data, determine the findings of your data, triple check to make sure your findings are correct, write so many drafts of a paper that you lose track of which draft you just finished writing, and then present your work. And this is just what I’ve gathered about the research process so far. I assume there will be more to learn in the future.
When mentoring students pursuing research careers, tell them what you do every day. Tell them about difficult situations you’ve faced while teaching, how you stay motivated carrying-out a long research project, and cultural norms within your field that they will one day be expected to follow.
3. Show that you had to develop your research skills.
A few weeks ago, I was reading The Administrative State by Dwight Waldo. The complexity of the book was starting to frustrate me to the point that I had few intentions of finishing it. To help me understand the main concepts, my mentor sent me a paper she wrote her first-year of graduate school that covered the book’s major themes. Before I could open the document, she was sure to tell me not to send it to anyone because it wasn’t very good. She was right... it wasn’t very good. The writing in that paper looked nothing like the writing I’ve seen in her published articles. This sounds irrational, but I assumed that my mentor showed up to her first-day of grad school able to write published articles. I was wrong, and I’m really happy I was wrong. Seeing that it took time for her to improve her writing skills gives me a lot of hope for my own abilities.
 Kram, K.E. (1988). Mentoring at Work. New York: University Press of America.
*I’ve used pseudonyms throughout to protect the privacy of other students on the team.