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Become a Mentor

We faculty didn't get where we are without being both fiercely independent and reliant on the aid and advice of a variety of mentors. Mentoring undergraduates is a unique pleasure and provides the satisfaction of passing down to another generation the mentoring you received.

Identifying students

The obvious choice is to approach top performers in your class, but passion, commitment, skill, and access can make significant differences.

Create an application and interview process so that you know what passion, commitment, and skills students bring to research. You want students who truly care about the research question, and you want students who can commit time and energy to it. You also need to determine whether student have the skills needed for the position.

Make sure your search process is accessible to all. Post your position on the CFUR site, and advertise in your department. Consider students who bring different gifts, abilities, interests, and backgrounds to the table. Give a second look at students who flow against type.


An important part of undergraduate research is the creation of some product. Although the final dissemination of research may be years away, students should be able to clearly document their research role in a portfolio or résumé. Other projects will result in more immediate publication or presentation. Some students will be able to co-author or co-present at professional conferences. Others may be able to publish in undergraduate research journals or present their work on campus. Many professional organizations offer opportunities for undergraduates to present their research; find out what your organization offers and help your students take advantage.

Manage expectations

Either at the interview or when you bring on your protégé, ask them to create a list of what you might expect of them and what they expect of you. Then place the student's lists next to the lists you've made and discuss any differences. Be explicit and ask students to be explicit about which expectations are reasonable and which are not.

Discuss what deadlines you face and ask students to identify the deadlines and pressures they will face in their classes. Discuss how you all will handle any changes in these expectations.

Be frank about your pet peeves, and encourage students to be open about their own.

Be deliberate in setting a check-in schedule, a time to discuss whether both of you are meeting expectations. Making this conversation flow both directions will ensure the semester ends well.

Guide your students

Spend time talking with your protégé, discussing their ideas, interests, and abilities. Encourage them to read in areas they haven’t explored. Recommend courses and workshops and summer experiences that will help them grow. Direct them to resources in your field. Invite them to participate in professional meetings. Nominate them for prizes, awards, and scholarships. Work with them and the Office of Merit Awards on applying for national scholarships.