Mentoring provides an opportunity to impact young people in meaningful ways. When professionals bring technical knowledge, process experience, and life lessons to the mentoring experience, students learn much more than they would completing a research project independently. Students who connect to professionals are more likely to see themselves in STEM careers, have more success in their education and career path, and are able to connect learning to real world work. Also, mentoring can be challenging. Even the most skilled scientist or engineer may not feel completely equipped to work with students. Though everyone is different, here are some common qualities of an outstanding mentor:
Know themselves: Through the mentor matching engine you will create a profile that defines your expertise and includes your interests and availability. Think as broadly as possible about your expertise and interests (a bio-chemist may be able to comfortably mentor a biology project) and specifically about your availability. Take time to think if you will be able to offer an hour per week for the duration of the project. Commit to seeing a project through to completion.
Model Collaboration: Research and development does not happen in a vacuum. In the same way that you collaborate with colleagues at work, encourage students to reach out to other experts and consider inviting your own colleagues to participate where collaboration could be helpful.
Are enthusiastic about research and investigation: Share your enthusiasm. How did you decide to go through school and go into the field you did?
Are patient: Students will join the Mentor Matching Engine at different times in the year, and it will take time to develop research questions. It may be a month or more before a student reaches out with a mentoring opportunity.
Respond in a timely fashion: Your students will value prompt feedback, and a simple answer at the right time can save hours of wasted work.
Hold students to high expectations: Do not hesitate to challenge students intellectually—this is one of the key functions mentors fulfill. Encourage great questions and learning from mistakes.
Support students as they figure things out and don't do the work for them: Ask questions to figure out what students know, and help them use that to learn and do more.
Help students build self-confidence: There are many ways to acknowledge students' efforts and to build confidence through carefully considering their thoughts and ideas. For instance, saying, "I like how you changed your strategy when you didn't get the result you expected! Tell me more about how you came up with your new plan," encourages having confidence through mistakes. The more specific and genuine your feedback, encouragement, and interest, the more it will mean to students.
Encourage students' participation: If you have not heard from your students or they fail to meet deadlines, draw them back in! If you are having challenges motivating your student, contact the teacher to get advice.
Explicitly deliver, model, and continually reinforce ethical and safe practices. Real world knowledge and experiences will inform students for a lifetime. Stay positive and help solve problems as they arise. Remember the theater adage: "The show must go on!"
Come with an open mind: We are all here to learn.