In The News: Graduate Student Mentoring


Thank you for all your great comments on our first post – they are exactly the kind of conversation we were hoping to foster! If you missed last week’s post, don’t forget to go back and look check it out along with the great comments.

Articles outlining the complicated and difficult context of graduate education appear in the news with unsettling frequency.

The lagging economy, the changing nature of higher education funding, the shrinking number of  tenure track faculty positions, and technological innovation are all working against traditional measures of graduate student success.

These challenges are only bolstered by the long-held and well-known attrition rate of graduate students: a steady 50% of graduate students never complete their degrees (Lovitts, 2001).

There is no quick fix for graduate education. However, one ingredient of the graduate school experience that has gained attention for its potential to shore up graduate education is the mentoring of graduate students. Quality mentoring can make the difference between whether a student succeeds or not.

We invite you to join us on Thursday, January 31, from 12-2 p.m. in Ekstrom Library, Room 244, when Drs. Beth Boehm and Kathy Baumgartner will lead a Dine and Discover session on the topic of graduate student mentoring. You can learn more and register here:

Additionally, Dr. Leonard Cassuto, known for his column in the Chronicle of Higher Education called “The Graduate Adviser,” will also address the topic on Wednesday, February 13, from 3-4:30 p.m. in Chao Auditorium. More information about the event can be found here:

We also invite you to check out the following few web-based resources on mentoring graduate students.

The Mentor Center, the School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies’ mentoring webpage, provides a host of resources including frequently asked mentoring questions, a bibliography, and access to an advisory board of graduate student mentoring award winners.

The University of Washington Graduate School website has an excellent section on “How to Mentor Graduate Students.” The linked page includes a great list of suggestions to consider and to discuss with graduate students as well links to other helpful mentoring pages.

What are the challenges and opportunities you have found in your mentoring of graduate students?

Lovitts, B.E. (2001). Leaving the ivory tower: The causes and consequences of departure from doctoral study. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

4 thoughts on “In The News: Graduate Student Mentoring

  1. I have always loved advising graduate students, especially PhD students, because it is extremely rewarding to see them have the bell-ringing moment, you know…when their computer code finally runs without errors, or the results of their months of analysis reveal something amazing, or when that first article gets accepted. In fact, I have always regretted that when I was a dept chair I never got around to actually hanging a large bell in the hallway so that anyone could ring it when they experienced the true joy of a breakthrough. I still remember the “OMG” moment in my PhD years when I realized I had found something new, and that my dissertation was going to be OK; that I was gonna make it. If there had been a bell, I’d have cracked it. We need to remember that fear of failure is something that PhD students deal with every day, and we must learn to celebrate when they overcome it. I say we order some bells.

  2. I agree, John. Your post also makes me wonder in what way a PhD candidate’s fear of failure is different from that of a first-year undergraduate student or a tenure-track faculty-member or the new department chair. One recent post I read from a faculty person talked about how there’s this focus on what’s around the bend (earning the PhD, earning tenure, publishing more…) and how it’ll be so different, but really it’s just a new spin on an old feeling. Is that fear of failure “normal”? If so, how can we mentor students so that the recognition of that emotion might be productive rather than debilitating, so that it might lead to calculated risk rather than the path of least resistance? The success stories are helpful, but I could have used more mentoring about what didn’t go well and how those individuals learned and responded. In addition to celebrating the victories (which I agree we don’t do enough of), I’d love to see the bell rung when the hypothesis isn’t borne out, the experiment goes awry, but she learned something valuable and survived all the same. There are many factors that contribute to that 50% attrition rate, I’m sure, but I’d wager that a supportive, bell-ringing community will go a long way to counteracting that.

  3. While I do not formally mentor or advise students, I agree with and wonder too about the above sentiment that fear of faliure spans the entire learner environment. My learning audience consists of both undergrad and graduate level adult learners. Their uncertainties about the competence and confidence they need or possess appear mostly in the beginning courses of a program. After successfully completing a few courses; realizing they will be able to master technology; hear from their peers similar stories of uncertainty and concern and being encouraged by an instructor that is fair and consistent with everyone that learners experience that they are not alone and may even be successful earning a college degree.

    I have no scientific data to support my assertions but they simply come from my instructional experiences with undergrad and graduate level adult learners in face-to-face and online learning environments, thanks.

  4. One of the issues about student mentoring that I am most familiar with is how many of us mentor others in the same style that we were mentored….whether that fits the students’ needs or not. I’m so glad mentoring of graduate students is becoming more of an open conversation because it is a skill that can be learned and honed over time. I was lucky to have wonderful mentors who helped me succeed, but I know other colleagues who struggled with mentors who didn’t know how to have the tough conversations, or supportive talks, that my colleagues needed at the time. It is such an important part of graduate education–I’m glad to see it put in the spotlight. I have found myself taking the time out of my schedule in the past couple of years to meet with undergrad and grad students when asked so that I can pass on some of the benefits that I gained from the many mentors who helped me along the way. SOmetimes it’s just posing a question that a mentee has never thought of before. Let’s keep this conversation going….

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