Mentor guideline 1: Within mutually agreeable limits, mentors have an open door. Because your time is so valuable, it is often the most precious thing you can give. What lies behind that door, literally and figuratively, should be a haven of sorts. Give students your full attention when they are talking with you, and the time and encouragement to open up. Try to minimize interruptions. Consider scheduling an occasional meeting on campus away from the office or department to help create more personalized time.
Mentor guideline 2: Use concrete language to critique students’ work. What the mentor communicates with the students must be timely, clear and, above all, constructive. Critical feedback is essential, but it is more likely to be effective if tempered with praise when deserved. Remind students that you are holding them to high standards in order to help them improve.
Mentor guideline 3: McNair Mentors keep track of their students’ progress and achievements, setting milestones and acknowledging accomplishments. McNair staff will assist on this task as well. Let your students know from the start that you want them to succeed, and create opportunities for them to demonstrate their competencies. When you feel a student is prepared, suggest or nominate them for presentations, scholarships, fellowships, projects, and teaching opportunities.
Mentor guideline 4: Encourage students to try new techniques, expand their skills, and discuss their ideas, even those they fear might seem naive or unworkable. Let students know that mistakes are productive because we learn from our failures. These practices nurture self-sufficiency. As tempting as it can be to dictate paths, the person in front of you has different strengths and aspirations.
Mentor guideline 5: Provide support in times of discouragement as well as success, and be mindful of signs of emotional and physical distress. Do not assume that the only students who need help are those who ask for it. If a student is falling behind in their work, resist concluding that this shows a lack of commitment, and contact the McNair office to assist the student.
Mentor guideline 6: Perhaps the student is exhausted, or unclear about what to do next, or is uncomfortable with some aspect of the project or research team. Although it is ultimately the responsibility of students to initiate contact with you, it may make a difference if you get in touch with the student who is becoming remote. Let him/her know s/he is welcome to talk with you during your office hours, and that the conversation can include nonacademic as well as academic issues.
Mentor guideline 7: Being open and approachable is particularly important when a student is shy or comes from a different cultural background, like many McNair scholars. McNair students may experience impostor syndrome – anxiety about whether they belong in graduate school – so it is important to reassure them of their skills and abilities to succeed. The enthusiasm and optimism you show can be inspirational. Make sure that students understand not only the personal consequences of their commitment to their work, but also its value to the professional community and to the general public.
Mentor guideline 8: Share what you have learned as both a scholar and a member of a profession. You might think things are obvious to McNair students that are not. At the same time, tell your students what you learn from them. This will make them realize they are potential colleagues. Identify professional workshops and networking opportunities for them. Involve students in editing, journal activities, conference presentations, and grant writing.
Of course, it is not necessary to embody all of these attributes in order to be a successful mentor. Individuals have relative strengths in their capacity for mentoring, and mentors should be clear about what they can and cannot offer. Part of effective mentoring is knowing when to refer someone to another resource that might be more helpful. Please always inform the McNair Staff if there is any concern on the development of the student.
Most important and more than any particular piece of advice or supportive act, your students will remember how they were treated. The example you set as a person will have a profound effect on how they conduct themselves as professionals.