We hear a lot of times that research and teaching are two important duties for professors today. However, I think there is a third item that needs to be added here for all of us to consider. Mentorship is one of the key duties and responsibilities professors have today with their students. Whether they are undergraduate students or graduate students, we need to make sure to provide a good foundation to what is to be expected of them out in the workplace. However, we also have to make sure to provide them with opportunities to showcase their insights, skills, and knowledge in new opportunities.
One of the things I have tried to do while at the University of Louisville is to share what I do when I am not in the classroom. I have had students in the past who think all I do is come to class, give them a lecture on a topic associated with class, and then leave. However, I do outline my daily calendar of all of the other activities I am a part of (ex. research, dissertation meetings, consulting projects, etc). I also make sure to talk about what the benefits are for working on research projects and what that involves.
I am currently teaching a graduate crisis communications class this semester, and I gave my students the opportunity to potentially submit their research case study (their final project for the class) to two conferences. One was going to be in Orlando, and another was to be held in Greece. One of my students, Samantha, expressed an interest in pursuing this. I provided her with some recommendations on what case study to work on and then she came up with the abstract to submit. And, she received some wonderful news yesterday – her paper got accepted to present at the conference.
I think this is not only impressive, but really exceptional because you may see this from a PhD student, but it is not that common to have a Master’s student initiate a research case study to present at an international conference. When Samantha shared this exciting news to her, I let her know she is doing something not many students have done before. In fact, I was in between my first and second year in my PhD program when I presented at my first international research conference.
There are several lessons I have learned here when it comes to mentoring that I hope professors take into consideration as they advice their undergraduate and graduate students:
- Determine what makes this student unique: This is something to think about for each student. What’s their story in getting into this major? What areas are they passionate about? What is going to be their unique contribution to the field? What makes them different from other graduate or undergraduate students? What are their skills?
- Ask the students where they see themselves after graduation: Along with the assessment of their skills, you want to ask the student where they see themselves after graduation. This will give you an idea of where they see themselves and if they are currently in the mindset for understanding what it will take to make it there.
- Be generous with what you’ve learned in the process: Sharing your own experience in the field is key – whether it is professionally or in research. I’ve tried to share what I have learned over the years with fellow colleagues, students, and even doctoral students. My feeling is – what would I have wanted to know at their stage? Also, walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Show your students what you have been able to do thanks to social media. Whether it is through Twitter or even writing on LinkedIn or your own personal blog, you are able to provide a real life perspective on the topic for your students to witness.
- Evaluate their willingness to invest and work ethic to achieve their goals: You want to have a “come to reality” chat with each of your students on this topic. In today’s society, we are all expected to work harder and more efficiently than ever before. However, if we take the time to invest in our professional future, it will pay off substantially. This is what I have done for both graduate and undergraduate students over the years – look at how much they are willing to work towards achieving their goals and what they want to do.
- Be their coach and cheer them on. One of the best lessons I got in this was from my Dad. Dad was my coach in track, and he always said that you want to be there as a coach to support, encourage, and push the athlete to perform and be the best they can be. However, coaches are not there on the award stand getting the medal around their neck. I think this is the approach professors should take. We want to be there to help our students succeed and when they do, it’s their time in the spotlight and we will be there as their biggest cheerleaders. When they get exciting news like Samantha has done, share it! It’s not every day you get to see your students excited and motivated to take on these various tasks and challenges and succeed in them!
In summary, I am very proud of all of the students I have mentored and taught over the years. Each one has had their own unique qualities and dreams after graduation, and it has been an honor to be part of this experience. Having the opportunity to be able to make an impact and help guide future professionals in our field is one of the best things about being a professor.
Hope you all are having a great day!