How Would You Mentor Graduate Students? Another #Facepalm Fail

Today I was doing an interview bootcamp and came upon yet another #Facepalm Fail of the academic interview.

The #Facepalm Fail is: “How would you mentor graduate students?”

Actually, this might not rise to the level of a full-size #Facepalm Fail, because it will only be asked in certain contexts–interviews for jobs in departments with graduate programs.

Nevertheless, you should be prepared. One of the hardest mental shifts to make in the grad school –> job market transition is from being a graduate student to being a person in charge of training graduate students.

And yet make that transition you must.  This is a question that virtually all interview bootcamp clients bomb.  

Here, in brief, is how to respond to that question:  

“Graduate students at different levels will have different needs. First year graduate students will be struggling to simply adapt to the demands of graduate school, and for those students, I would focus on helping them navigate the expectations of the program, its requirements, and basic academic reading and writing skills.

Mid-program students who are involved in establishing their dissertation projects will need assistance in formulating an original research project, and then gaining a command of the theoretical schools of thought and the various methodologies necessary to conduct it. Teaching skills in grant-writing are also important at this stage.

With more advanced students I focus on academic writing skills, and also work with them to plan ahead for conferences and presenting work in public.

As graduate students finish the program I would focus on the job market and other professionalization skills such as fellowships, the job market, and networking. Overall I want to support students in both their scholarly growth as well as their professional development.”

Would that our own advisors had actually done–or even thought of doing–any of this!


How Would You Mentor Graduate Students? Another #Facepalm Fail — 7 Comments

  1. Our department is gracious enough to allow graduate student participation in some parts of the process when they interview candidates. I asked this question! 🙂

  2. Probably a way NOT to mentor a grad student is to tell them that their idea of comparing/contrasting two artists from different centuries is “interesting” then later tell them it’s like “comparing apples and oranges”.

  3. Crib from the good grad mentors in your department! Grad students should have a handle on who the great (and terrible, ha) mentors are — whether they worked with them or not — and talk about the things the excellent ones did, saying of course that they would replicate them for x, y, and z reasons.

  4. I recently read about how a particular prof mentors his graduate students (Barrett lab, University of Toronto) (disclaimer: I have no connection to this fellow whatsoever) and was extremely impressed with his approach.

    “My general experience has been that every student is different and that supervisors should adjust their supervisory style depending on the student’s background and degree of independence. I am proud to say that I have never had a student drop out and all my students have completed their theses.

    For a Ph.D. student I usually: 1) provide a range of potential thesis topics that fit a student’s overall interest, usually 3-5 general problems are discussed initially. Over a period of time these are narrowed down to 1-2 questions. I am also happy to entertain projects that the student might suggest, so long as they are feasible, can be funded by my NSERC grant, and are sufficiently original to warrant intensive study; 2) I provide the necessary academic, financial and logistical support to conduct the thesis research throughout the duration of the program; 3) after the first 1-2 years, and once the research questions are formulated and the study system is worked out, I encourage the student to take full ‘ownership’ of the project and develop new avenues and questions related to the problem; 4) Students in my laboratory normally publish 4-6 journal articles from their thesis and I work with them to improve their paper writing abilities, and to ensure that they publish papers as they go along. This enables them to be in a better position on graduation to obtain post-doctoral or academic positions; 5) I encourage my students to develop collaborations with other faculty and students and many papers from my laboratory reflect this. I also like to involve graduate students in book chapters and reviews that I am working on if they are interested and have the time.

    For M.Sc. students I usually use the same overall approach except that because of the much shorter duration of the program I encourage students to work during their first summer as a research assistant in my lab and focus their interests. It is important to settle on a problem fairly quickly in the M.Sc. program so that by the end the first term a tractable question has been decided upon and research has commenced.”

  5. Pingback: Preparing for Your Interviews | The Professor Is In

  6. I would even expand that by saying that I’d be willing to coauthor with grad students and walk them through the publication process. My advisor and other faculty members in my program did this and it was immensely helpful. By the time I was submitting solo-authored manuscripts I was a seasoned veteran of the process, confident in how I was handling the submission/revision process.

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