opinion   |   column

COLUMN: Mentorships benefit faculty and students

When it comes to succeeding in college, going to class isn’t everything. I’m not saying you should skip your 8 a.m., but I do think one of the greatest benefits available to you happens outside the classroom.

Research, specifically under the guidance of a mentor, can help enhance the skills you learn in class and provide you with other advantages that normal coursework simply does not offer.

As the Council on Undergraduate Research has found, mentored research further develops students’ creativity and critical thinking and equips students with a level of intellectual independence that a traditional curriculum cannot.

My own experience with a faculty mentor has shaped my idea of the research I want to conduct for my senior thesis, clarified my goals for graduate school and given me access to invaluable professional contacts and funding resources. 

Research shows this experience to be common among undergraduates. In a review by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, students who engaged in research with a mentor report increased opportunities for publication and scholarly connection.  Many students say their mentor’s guidance positively influenced their work. 

These findings support what we might intuitively expect. Students who challenge themselves and receive support throughout those challenges benefit from their experiences.

Given what we know about the benefits of mentorship, it is important to consider how we can ensure these relationships form more often.

For students, my best advice is to meet with professors during their office hours. This is in no way a novel suggestion, but I want to emphasize the difference that even small efforts can make.

You don’t need to have any specific questions about course material. You don’t need to have a clear idea of a project you would like to start.  All you need to do is show up.

That said, increasing the frequency and quality of mentor relationships will involve just as much, if not more, effort on the part of the professors. 

The Institute for Higher Education Policy suggests early action as well as the implementation of formal mentorship programs as possible strategies for achieving this goal. 

Recruiting faculty who are willing to be assigned to incoming students and to work with them throughout their time in college ensures students are not left behind.

Outside of these formal programs, which may not exist at every university and cannot be expected to reach every student, there are smaller changes faculty at any institution can make.

While many students might take interest in opportunities to work with professors outside of class, the likelihood that a student will actually pursue this opportunity depends on how professors present themselves. 

No matter how interesting their research might be, professors who do not seem open to students’ interests and inquiries run the risk of discouraging even the most outgoing students from taking initiative outside of class. 

It is important that professors understand mentorships benefit them as well, because recognition of this fact greatly increases their likelihood of taking on a mentee. 

I highly encourage you to seek out a faculty mentor. The relationship you develop will benefit both you and your professor, and you deserve every advantage this university can offer you.

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