What Makes a Great Mentorship Experience?

By: Ariane Garrett, OUR Peer Research Ambassador

In my last blog post, I wrote about navigating the mentor-mentee relationship and the baseline expectations you should have for your mentors. These expectations can include setting a reliable schedule, obtaining the necessary training to use equipment, and receiving the appropriate credit for your work. However, many professors go above and beyond the minimum standard and provide truly excellent mentorship to their students. This can play out in many different ways, from fostering a community within the lab to encouraging you to apply for opportunities that seem out of reach. Below I lay out some of the qualities that make for great mentors, along with some tips on how to transform your research experience from good to great!

1. A great mentor… fosters a sense of community within the lab
I’ve found that a sense of community within the lab can greatly add to your experience.  My mentor organizes lab barbecues in the summer and fall for everyone in the lab, and they provide a great chance to get to know each other on a more personal level. I was working on an independent project over the summer, so I didn’t have much interaction with other students in the lab until the BBQ. Once I got to know the people around me better, I felt much more welcome and comfortable in the lab setting. This made it easier for me to ask for help when I needed it, and made my days in the lab more fun!

Tip: If you want to get to know the people in your lab better, break the ice by asking them about the project they are working on. Everyone loves to talk about their own work.

2.  A great mentor… helps you find and apply for opportunities.
Oftentimes the support from a respected mentor is just the push you need to finally apply for a competitive internship, award, or funding source. Great mentors support you in all of these endeavors by providing advice on which opportunities to go for, reading over your application materials, and writing letters of recommendation. Beyond all of that, they can give you the confidence to take on new challenges and compete for the best opportunities.

Tip: Ask your mentor about what success other students from the lab have had when applying to the opportunity you are interested in.

3.  A great mentor… advises you on future plans
Who better to advise you than an expert in your field of interest? Your mentor probably has many gems of wisdom about navigating life after college, and a great mentor is willing to share that knowledge candidly. They can advise you on the best internships for your interests, the best graduate schools in your field, which companies are good and bad to work for, and general career prospects in your field.

Tip: If your mentor doesn’t offer you advice freely, don’t be afraid to ask them yourself! They will most likely be more than willing to talk about their career path and challenges they have faced along the way.

4.  A great mentor… is a good fit for your learning style.
Everyone learns in different ways, and every mentor teaches in different ways. A great mentor is someone whose style of teaching is conducive to your success and who understands the ways that you learn best. Personally, I learn best by asking a ton of questions. Therefore, it’s important to me that my mentor is respectful of that and willing to answer them fully. Some students want to be walked through the steps of an experiment the first time, while some mentors want their students to try everything by themselves first. The variations are endless, but what’s important is that your research experience is one conducive to learning.

Tip: Don’t be afraid to tell your mentor that their style of teaching isn’t working well for you! They will most likely be more then willing to hear you out and find a style that works for everyone.

Ariane Garrett is a sophomore double majoring in biomedical engineering and Spanish. Click here to learn more about Ariane.