FAQ for Mentors

How should I initiate contact with students, and how often?

If you are matched with a specific student or group of students, email or phone to ask when and if they would like to meet. At the first meeting you can discuss how often they would like to meet with you. You may suggest once a month, twice a semester, etc. We encourage all peer mentors to check in with their students at least once a semester. You should make sure all students are included in the community, especially students who are at risk (e.g. students who seem withdrawn, on dissertation fellowship, returning from the field or leave, participating in dual-degree programs, etc.).

What type of advice should I be prepared to give to students?

Students tend to ask how long it usually takes students in your department to complete a degree, what steps are necessary to complete a degree, things you have learned along the way towards completing your degree (perhaps things you might have done differently), how to work with advisors, etc. You may also be asked about the more personal side of the graduate school experience, like how to manage stress, cope with doubts about staying in graduate school, balance relationships with work, live on a graduate student budget, etc.

What do I do if the person I'm mentoring says that they think they might quit grad school?

Ask why! If it is something you have been through before, talk about your experience. Find out if it is actually the program, the field of study, or the profession that they dislike, or if they are having emotional difficulty. In the latter case, a referral to counseling services may be the most appropriate response you can make.

What should I do if I find that I may not be the best mentor for an assigned mentee?

If you feel as if you just don’t click with a student, discuss the situation with your peer mentoring coordinator. Hopefully, you will get some idea as to who might better serve the student. You can then introduce the student to this other mentor and explain why the other mentor might be a great person to consult about a particular issue. It is probably best not to drop the student officially but just to let the transfer process happen as naturally as possible. If severe mentor/mentee problems occur, consult the Peer Mentoring Committee members, Dean Macrander, or a counselor at Student Health Services.

What type of support network is available if I find that I am being asked questions for which I don't have ready answers? Also, what should I do if a time-sensitive problem comes up that I find I just don't have the time to deal with at the moment?

If you find yourself confronted with issues beyond your time demands or expertise, whether personal or professional, there are people you can go to. At the department level, consider coordinating with other department officers to provide with holistic access to resources and information (e.g. GPC and GSS officres, GSA President, etc.). Dean Macrander can help with policy issues and problems related to degree progress, time to degree, advisor conflicts, etc. The Ombudsperson, Jessica Kuchta-Miller, can also help with academic and departmental issues. For issues of a more personal nature, such as depression and anxiety, individual counselling at Student Health Services is a great resource. There are also a number of groups available, including the Dissertation Support Group, which can be a wonderful source of support for doctoral students in the final stages of their degree.

For how long will I be expected to mentor?

This will undoubtedly vary among the students in your department. You might stick with some students for their entire graduate career, while others might not ask for mentoring advice after their first year; other students may connect with other mentors as their needs and interests change. The minimum commitment we ask for is one year, during which you might be involved with different students at different times. Ideally, each mentor would commit for at least two years so they can remain a resource for new peer mentors.

FAQ for Mentees

What types of assistance should mentors be able to provide?

One of the great things about peer mentors is that they have had experience being in your program. This means that they can give advice on coursework, research projects, important degree milestones and their timelines, professional protocol, theses, dissertations, etc. They are also experts in the graduate student experience outside research and classes; they know what it’s like to deal with the confusion, uncertainty, and stress of graduate school. They are there to listen to you with friendly and sympathetic ears!

How much is too much to ask of a mentor, in terms of time devoted to me?

Obviously, for emergency concerns, don’t hesitate to call on any mentor. For non-emergency concerns, the best way to answer this question is to think about how you would feel in their place. Mentors have volunteered to serve as resources for their peers. Whenever you have a concern, it is fine to ask their advice, because that is why they are there. You may want to work out a somewhat regular meeting schedule that is convenient for both of you where you can share your questions. These meetings can be over lunch, coffee, or just in the mentor’s office. If you feel a mentor is hard to interrupt, try email, which can be answered when time permits and can be followed up in person at a mutually convenient time.

Should I seek help from another mentor if I don’t think an assigned mentor is best able to help me?

It is certainly fine to build connections with other mentors; this is exactly what the peer mentor network is for! It is likely that, as you progress in your program, you will meet new people, your interests will change, etc. This may mean that you find other students or mentors that you go to more often for advice, and there is no problem with that. You might just mention to your mentor that you’ve met others with whom you have some common ground, so that your mentor won’t worry about you.

What can a peer mentor offer beyond any other graduate students I interact with (in my lab, classes, etc.)?

A peer mentor by no means replaces these other students you know and from whom you get advice. A peer mentor is just one more person in your support network during your graduate career. Having a peer mentor to talk to who is not involved with your advisor or your research can be beneficial in obtaining an outside, confidential perspective. For instance, there may be times when you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone in your lab or to one of your advisor’s students about problems you could be having with your advisor. In addition, peer mentors are trained to be “experts” in university and department policies and resources, which may be valuable to you at several milestones in your graduate career. They can also refer you to the right office or person on campus when an issue is beyond their expertise.