Developing a positive relationship with one’s major professor is an important part of being a graduate student in the GGE. In 2013, GGE chair Sharon Lawler shared some general guidelines for developing a successful mentoring relationship, which we’ve excerpted below.
You’ll find more resources on this topic, including the GGE’s formally adopted mentorship checklist, at the GGE mentorship page.
The rules of good communication in a mentoring relationship are: 1. Frequency; 2. Respectfulness; 3. Tactful honesty; 4. Constructiveness; 5. Thoroughness
Everyone is busy, so frequency of communication can be a problem. Students may hesitate to bother the major professor. Time stress can lead to brief or emailed communications which are easily misinterpreted. Therefore, please communicate in person regularly. Aim for weekly, especially in the early years.
Communication in the mentoring relationship is tricky due to the power imbalance. Some students are overly cautious about what they say. Students may have a stronger reaction to a critique from a mentor than is typical among equals. Respect and tact are key. Sometimes criticism is useful, but it should be given constructively and in private.
Sometimes people feel entitled to break the rules of communication if they feel that their messages aren’t being heard, if they think that another person has broken these rules, or if they are stressed. However, escalating a situation or withdrawing rarely helps. Someone who needs time to sort out issues should inform the other party that they are taking time, and then resume good communication as soon as possible.
Mediation services are available free of charge. Mediation staff can also advise faculty, staff and students on strategies to convince another party to take advantage of this service. See: http://mediation.ucdavis.edu/
Here’s an initial communication checklist for mentors and mentees, inspired by Mark Schwartz’s advice on the GGE website. I advise all students and professors to address these issues. Documenting answers may help to resolve future confusion.
1. Meetings. How often should one-on-one meetings be held? Is attendance at lab meetings mandatory? What is the procedure if a meeting must be missed?
2. Work hours. How does the mentor views students working from home? What is the procedure for planning leaves?
3. Salary support (annually and promptly when a funding situation changes). What support is available – TA, GSR, Fellowship? Is the student expected to submit specific grant proposals?
4. Research resources. What are mentor’s/mentee’s expectations with regard to supplies, space, and research assistance? What is the procedure for requesting these? Who should be alerted when space or supplies run short?
5. Review of the student’s work. Does the PI expect to review proposals, presentations and etc before they are reviewed or seen externally? If so, what is the time frame for review?
6. Publication. How is order of authorship order determined? Does the PI expect authorship on most student publications due to their customary level of input, or are students expected/allowed to publish virtually independently? (ESA’s Code of Ethics could serve as a good starting point for this discussion. http://www.esa.org/aboutesa/
Who to talk to for assistance with mentoring relationships:
GGE Chair: Sharon Lawler
Student Affairs Officer: Holly Hatfield
Ombudsman: Bernie May