Tips for a Positive Faculty Mentor Experience

To create a productive research experience with undergraduate researchers, it is important to establish clear and mutually agreed-upon roles and expectations for the project, whether during the summer or academic year. Here are some suggestions:

Outlining Expectations
  • Discuss the weekly schedule, including the number of hours and days/times the student will be working on the research project.
  • Outline your general and specific expectations of the student, including any required readings, writings, meetings and projects.
  • Discuss the project timeline. Identify specific milestones within the workplan and expected completion dates.

Student Responsibilities and Preparation

  • Discuss with the student his or her responsibilities. What independent decisions can they make, if any? How should students document their work and in what format?  What is expected with respect to interim reports, regular meetings, final products, and presentations?
  • Provide relevant training and resources for aspects of the research the student will engage in. Does the student need to be trained in chemical or other laboratory safety procedures?  Does the student know how and where to access necessary resources for photocopying, ordering supplies, and signing equipment out from the department or general stockroom?
  • Discuss with students the responsible conduct of research and research ethics. Ensure they have CITI certification, if necessary. CITI research training modules are available to Middlebury students even if not required. For more information, contact URO.

Ongoing Communication and Goal Assessment

  • Foster a culture of open and clear communication.  What is the best way for students to communicate with you? Do you have an open-door policy? Do you prefer appointments? Are you going to be out of town for an extended period? Who can the student consult if you are unavailable?
  • Have regular meetings with the student to provide feedback on the quality and quantity of their work. Set these meetings up ahead of time, before problems develop, and use them as opportunities to provide constructive feedback.
  • Describe to students how they can grow into the project as they gain more skills and experience. Without understanding the bigger picture, students may not see the importance of some entry-level work.
  • Ask students what goals (academic, personal, and/or skill-based) they hope to accomplish during the research. Ask them to assess their progress periodically and at the end of the research period.
  • Share with students the skills, competencies, and learning you see them develop during and at the end of the research experience.

Institutional Oversight

  • Providing funding for opportunities comes with obligations to be aware of such as
    • Funding for a student may be a taxable award (see tax info).
    • Travel domestically or abroad may require forms or approval (see travel and global operations).
    • Federal grant funded projects may require RCR training for students involved.
    • Departments may also have internal requirements.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to the Undergraduate Research Office, University of Missouri for many of these suggestions. See https://undergradresearch.missouri.edu/faculty/getting-started.php