How to Be a Good Mentor

By Shengjie Xu posted 01-13-2022 14:50


This blog was crafted by the Communications Subcommittee of the Graduate Student Leadership Committee.

In describing mentorship, Oprah Winfrey once said, “A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” Mentors come in many forms. They could be our research advisors, senior graduate students, coaches, or friends. As graduate students, we benefit from healthy and professional mentorships in the classroom, in the laboratory, and in life. Now, it’s time to give back. If you are a new mentor in your graduate life, here are some tips for you to build your mentorship with your mentees.

  • Understand your mentees. Every mentorship is different. Appreciation of individual differences is fundamental to starting this journey. As a first-time mentor, it is essential to understand your mentees’ background, career goals, and what they want to achieve through this mentorship. Getting to know your mentees will help build a more robust relationship.
  • Build the connection. Personal connection is crucial for mentorship. As graduate student mentors, we are uniquely positioned to understand what our mentees are going through. Sharing stories is a great way to build a connection with your mentees. For instance, you can share the moments when you first presented at a national conference, when you accidentally dropped your samples on the ground, or when you stayed up late for your finals. These experiences might help your trainees feel comfortable with their struggles and failures. Storytelling also is an effective way to illustrate an idea or solution to them.
  • Let your mentees lead. Encourage your mentees to take responsibility and work independently. A good mentor should “guide” their students toward achieving their goals rather than “do” the work for them. While facing a problem, peel away the layers and identify the roots with the mentees; this will motivate your students to overcome obstacles and develop their skills. Remember, when one teaches, two learn.
  • Be patient. Do you feel frustrated when seeing unexpected mistakes from your students? Are you uncomfortable with the silence after your lecture? Patience is pivotal to effective communication. Accept the current circumstances and work with your mentees to solve the problem together.
  • Share the good and the bad. Transparency is a vital characteristic of a mentor. As graduate students, we are not expected to master every skill or answer every question while mentoring. It is OK to say “I don’t know” and seek help from others. Honest feedback can benefit both mentors and mentees. The input from mentees can improve the quality of teaching. Your way of problem-solving and your honesty will encourage your mentees to develop their critical thinking and decision-making skills.

Overall, being a mentor is vital to building our communication skills to evolve into future leaders. It is a valuable but challenging experience for graduate students. I hope this blog is helpful to you. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us if you would like to share your own mentoring experiences with the SOT Graduate Student Leadership Committee!

#Education and Career Development