Supervision & Mentoring Skills
The day-to-day supervision of UROP students is a necessary component of the UROP experience. Mentoring and supervising are important skills that any researcher needs to learn. It is a skill that is honed over time and everyone has their own unique style that they develop.
We encourage students to remember and understand that a mentoring relationship is two-sided and you do not have control over all aspects of the mentor-mentee relationship, or other external factors. For example, students may unexpectedly become overwhelmed with their courses, extracurriculars, or personal lives. And that is okay. Being a good mentor often means acknowledging these limitations and adapting.
The main aspects of supervision skills we encourage mentors to consider and develop are outlined below:
- Maintain active communication throughout the UROP
- Set up norms around communication methods and frequency with your UROP students
- Provide feedback and consider how to convey constructive criticism
Project and duty scoping
- Plan the project with the structure of the UROP in mind (summer, part time, remote, hybrid, etc.)
- Make sure there are sufficient and appropriate duties for students
- Acknowledging and working with shifts in timelines, duties, and project scope
Flexibility, adaptability, and empathy
- It is always important to be flexible and adaptable while supervising students
- If you have concerns about a student, you can contact UROP staff, but we also recommend contacting Student Support Services (S3) at studentlife.mit.edu/s3
Documentation and organization
- A large part of being a good supervisor is being organized and keeping documentation on your UROP’s work
- Having your student keep a lab notebook or a running notes document and frequently reviewing it is a great way to do this
- Taking notes or delegating the responsibility of doing so during meetings
- Try to make your student feel comfortable and part of the lab group by including them in meetings and introducing them to colleagues
- Introduce your student to other UROPs in your lab or department
Mentee career development
- A good supervisor/mentor helps prepare you for the next step after that appointment — keep this in mind with your UROP students
- Help them frame their UROP on their resume
- Express what skills they have acquired in their UROP and why they are valuable in the field that they are interested in
- Give them advice from your own experience and career
- Nominate them for awards if appropriate and encourage them to apply for relevant opportunities (e.g. internships, conferences, graduate schools, etc.)
Safety and proper lab procedures
- Model good laboratory behavior with your students
- Supervise them carefully when they are still learning new skills and new machines
- Schedule meetings and follow-ups during those meetings
- Have a clear agenda for meetings
- Manage your time and your UROPs time effectively, such that things are not unnecessarily repeated
- Schedule work for when you and your student are both in the lab at the same time
Teaching new skills
- Don’t assume prior knowledge for new skills. A great way to assess knowledge is to ask up front what the student’s familiarity is with ‘X’ skill or concept. Make it clear it is okay to not be familiar.
- Give your students the confidence and opportunity to learn new skills
- Assign your students relevant literature and conduct constructive conversations around this literature
- Mentor them as a whole, not just in day-to-day supervision tasks.
- Have honest and real conversations around career options and also the implications of the field and the ethics around this type of work.
- Help students with research struggles, balancing workloads, and provide any tips you have learned from your own experience.
- Help your UROP create a mentoring network. Introduce them to others in the group, department, and/or field. Provide them with opportunities to discuss their work, solicit feedback, and receive career development advice from more than just you.
Remember: the best mentors aren’t the ones that know everything. They are the ones that are invested in their mentees, and help them grow.