Mentor Interview Assignment

In my undergraduate Research Methods courses, I infuse interviewing and career planning lessons to build students’ professional skills and confidence.

We’ve all been there: preparing for an interview, unsure of what questions will be asked of us and what questions we should ask of a potential mentor. We’ve also seen our peers struggle with mentors they don’t mesh will with, or maybe have experienced this ourselves. How can we train our students to identify red flags when they search for new mentors?

Some of these mismatches can be addressed by both the mentor and the student understanding the roles they play in each other’s lives. As a part of my course I assign the book “On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research: Third Edition” which you can get as a free download here. It is a very quick and easy read filled with great information for young scientists on mentoring, ethics, publication author order, and all the wonderful information you wish someone would have taught you early in your career!

Here is a PowerPoint I created based on the book you might find useful:

If your school has access to CITI Program training there are some great lessons that compliment the ethics portion of the book. Our Internal Review Board requires our students and faculty complete CITI training certificates with their IRB applications and I make my students complete this as part of the course too.

I have summarized the book’s roles of a “mentor” and “mentee” in this chart below that I present to my students in lecture. This quick visualization shows the expectations the student should have of a mentor and what the student should be accountable for when they join a research lab:

Roles of the MentorRoles of the Mentee
•Oversees the research
•Offers guidance and advice
•Takes a personal and professional interest in the researchers development
•Makes research suggestions
•Offers encouragement during difficult periods
•Help beginner researchers gain credit for works accomplished
•Help with career placement
•Offer continuing advice throughout their career
•Develop clear expectations on meeting times and availability
•Take initiative to seek out and work with mentors- Not the other way around!!
•Learn about the standards in your discipline and uphold them
Roles of a research mentor and mentee summarized from National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine. 2009. On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research: Third Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/12192.

In my first year teaching this assignment I arranged with the Bethune-Cookman University faculty in the College of Science, Engineering and Mathematics to present a seminar of lightning talks for the students in the college. The faculty were allowed 3 slides to introduce themselves, their research, and potential undergraduate research opportunities in their lab. It was an amazing seminar and highly comical with the faculty (of course) not abiding by the 3-min, 3 slide rule, but hey, it was a great ice breaker for the faculty and students! This seminar helped the students see what research opportunities there were and introduced them to faculty that they may not have met before.

After the seminar, the students were tasked with interviewing three faculty members. For my bio students they had to interview two bio faculty and one faculty member outside the department. Our Integrated Environmental Science department is very small, and when I teach the Research Methods course in that department I have the students do 1 inside faculty and two outside.

The assignment also emphasizes, and provides an example of, how to contact a mentor with professional emails.

The full interview assignment is here for your use:

When the students contact a faculty member for an interveiw I ask them to cc me and I provide the faculty form below. The student can then receive anonymous constructive criticism from the faculty on how they were perceived from the first email to the last question. (Can I just give a quick shout out to how awesome our CSEM faculty are to do all this for our students??)

Feel free to share your feedback on the lesson in the comments. Let me know if you tried it or if you have any additions you’d recommend for future versions!

Thank you to everyone that showed an interest in this lesson! You are all preparing your students with fantastic skills for their future.

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