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Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend: On being a Mentor to Students in Science and Engineering
mentoring styles and activities are as varied as human relationships. Different students will require different amounts and kinds of attention, advice, information, and encouragement. Some students will feel comfortable approaching their mentors; others will be shy, intimidated, or reluctant to seek help. A good mentor is approachable and available.
Often students will not know what questions to ask, what information they need, or what their options are (especially when applying to graduate programs). A good mentor can lessen such confusion by getting to know students and being familiar with the kinds of suggestions and information that can be useful.
In long-term relationships, friendships form naturally; students can gradually become colleagues. At the same time, strive as a mentor to be aware of the distinction between friendship and favoritism. You might need to remind a student-and yourself-that you need a degree of objectivity in giving fair grades and evaluations. If you are unsure whether a relationship is "too personal," you are probably not alone. Consult with the department chair, your own mentor, or others you trust. You might have to increase the mentor-student distance.
Students, for their part, need to understand the professional pressures and time constraints faced by their mentors and not view them as merely a means-or impediment-to their goal. For many faculty, mentoring is not their primary responsibility; in fact, time spent with students can be time taken from their own research. Students are obliged to recognize the multiple demands on a mentor's time.
At the same time, effective mentoring need not always require large amounts of time. An experienced, perceptive mentor can provide great help in just a few minutes by mak-