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Mentor Resources

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:

Communication

  •  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

Community

  • 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

Scheduling

  • 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

Holistic mentorship

  • 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.