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Best Practices in Mentoring and Advising Graduate Students College of Arts and Humanities


  • Create a supportive environment: Establish a process for providing clear and consistent feedback (i.e., verbal and written) as well as official benchmarks for each student, and post all academic expectations to the department’s website. (NB: it is best to give a timeframe for each benchmark, e.g.: "within one semester of finishing coursework students will take their comprehensive exams", etc.).
  • Set up a formal peer mentoring system, matching incoming students to experienced students, so that support is offered on multiple levels. This is especially effective if the peers are matched before new students arrive so that they can correspond, and if mentors have a clear sense of how, and how frequently, to interact with their mentees.
  • Offer programming that supports both academic and non-academic career paths.
  • Acknowledge and reward student accomplishments in research, teaching, and service.

        By the beginning of the fall semester:

  • Select a faculty advisor/mentor for each incoming student (in some departments this is the Grad Program Director for the first year).
  • The advisor/mentor should have a clear understanding of his/her duties, which include regular meetings.
  • Distribute a grad student handbook or ‘survival guide’ for new students and communicate clearly about any duties or responsibilities they will have (can be online).
  • Hold an orientation to discuss department expectations, culture, and policies (policies and benchmarks should be available on your website as well). Make clear the policy for changing advisors so that students will not feel intimidated if this becomes necessary.

         During the semester:

  • Hold at least one department-wide social event to build community. This is especially important for new students to feel grounded in the department culture.
  • Verify that peer mentoring structures are working well, i.e., that each student-mentor pair is meeting regularly.
  • Hold professional development events and job market related workshops.
  • Actively encourage/require students to participate in departmental lectures, seminars, and events.

        Toward the end of the semester/ year:

  • Review each student’s progress in teams or subcommittees and provide feedback to each student in writing, as well as face-to-face.
  • Provide students the opportunity to give feedback on their experience in the department (interviews, surveys, etc.) and let them know what ‘next steps’ are for any major concerns.

FACULTY Advisors should …

  • Take a mentoring approach to your advisees: Beyond giving consistent feedback for their academic progress, help them to develop professional skills, such as writing abstracts for conferences, finding/identifying jobs that fit their goals, writing cover letters and CVs, practicing a job talk, preparing a paper for publication, applying for fellowships and grants.
  • Offer to work with your advisees on how to develop an original thesis topic/proposal or how to navigate a specific database that is important in your field.
  • Review and return student work promptly, with explicit feedback.
  • Meet monthly with your students, as a general rule.
  • Stay up to date with, and remind your students about, specific grad school deadlines, fellowship opportunities, travel support for conferences, new library resources, etc.
  • Discuss your own work with students, and offer intellectual guidance for them in terms of how to carve out a research and/or professional niche.
  • Offer guidance and encouragement on a personal level, and be accommodating of any problems your advisees discuss with you.

STUDENTS should…

  • Be proactive! Schedule monthly meetings with your mentor, even if just for a brief visit to office hours. Ask for feedback regularly, even in between scheduled, official benchmarks. Your advisor should be able to give you guidance on your overall progress and planning, as well as specific aspects of your academic performance.
  • Reach out to other students in your area and set up peer groups to work on research ideas, study for significant exams, read abstracts for one another, etc.
  • Organize a student association in your department, and take the lead on organizing workshops on topics that you collectively need (the job process, life-work balance issues, how to develop a reading list, etc.) If there are specific skills you need to develop to succeed, ask your chair or individual faculty to offer practice and training.
  • Stay informed of all department deadlines and policies, and all grad school requirements and benchmarks.
  • Develop an intellectual relationship with your mentor by asking about his or her research, discussing ideas and sharing discoveries.
  • Do not be afraid to ask for advice, especially as you prepare for first-time professional activities (exams, conferences, writing articles). Never feel as if you should already know how to do these things.
  • Attend department-sponsored lectures, seminars, brown bag lunches, pot luck dinners, etc.
  • Seek early resolutions to problems before they become big; keep your advisor/mentor informed about any events or decisions that could impact your course of study.
  • Exercise high standards for scholarly conduct, research, and professional interactions with faculty, students and staff, keeping in mind the university’s policies on civility and academic honor.