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Finding & Developing a Strong Mentor Relationship

Choosing a mentor

Young woman smiling with mentorMany different people advise and guide you in your personal, academic and professional lives. For the purposes of the Research Scholarship application, your mentor should be the UW faculty member with whom you do research. Your faculty mentor will need to write a letter of support for your application, but if you work closely with a postdoc or graduate student, you may ask that person to write a letter of support for your application as well.

Developing a relationship with your mentor

It is important that once you identify someone to support your application, you have a conversation with him or her. You may wish to set expectations such as how often you wish to meet or talk, how you will do this (in person, telephone, email) and what you would like to discuss.

You could share your essay with your mentor and talk about your goals for the research project as well as goals for your own research development, education, and career. Be sure to explicitly ask your mentor to write a letter of recommendation once you’ve had at least one conversation, and communicate the date by which the letter must be received. Your mentor may find it useful to visit the Faculty/Mentor Instructions page to better understand the application process and what we're looking for in his/her letter.

What you and your mentor can expect from one another

Mentors’ expectations of the students they mentor

We surveyed mentors of Mary Gates Scholars and asked them what they expect of the students they mentor. Below are some common responses:

  • Communication.  Mentors expect the students they mentor to maintain consistent communication, and to be reliable, responsive, prepared, and organized. Mentors expect students to communicate their ideas, concerns, needs, and expectations, and to be willing to ask questions and ask for help. Mentors expect that students will be able to receive and give feedback.   
  • Student attitude and work ethic.  Mentors expect the students they mentor to be enthusiastic about their project, and to be willing to put in the effort necessary. Mentors expect students to be self-motivated, disciplined, motivated and committed. Mentors hope that students are willing to take initiative, challenge themselves and take risks. Mentors expect that students they mentor will be honest, hard working and conscientious.

What students can expect from their mentor

We surveyed mentors of Mary Gates Scholars and asked them what students can expect from them as a mentor. Below are some common responses:

  • Support and guidance.  Students can expect support and feedback from their mentors. Students can expect their mentors to be accessible, willing to listen, and responsive to questions and concerns. Mentors often provide personal encouragement and guidance in helping students achieve their immediate and longer term goals. Mentors take an interest in students’ progress and are committed to students’ development as researchers or leaders.
  • Ideas and intellect.  Mentors can help students in refining their ideas, and shaping their project into a form that can be accomplished. Mentors support students intellectually, encouraging them to think for themselves and challenge themselves.  Students can expect that their mentors will have high expectations for their work. In research, students can expect their mentors to offer research guidance in areas such as developing a research idea, experimental design, data analysis, technical writing skills, presentation skills, or identifying resources, interpreting, and critiquing literature.   

Thanking your mentor

Most mentors embrace their roles without reward for their time or effort but purely for their interest in helping others. You can show your appreciation for their guidance simply by thanking them. You might also recognize your mentor more publicly with a note to their organization or department, or to our office.

In addition, the UW offers more information to help guide you through developing a strong mentor relationship.