Whether you are brand new to graduate school or deep into dissertation writing, relationships with faculty mentors play a critical role in your student experience. Faculty can serve as intellectual interlocutors, provide feedback and direction on research and writing, connect students to important colleagues and opportunities, and serve as guides to navigating degree programs and the university.  

It is common for students to seek advice in learning how to identify faculty mentors, get what they need from these relationships, and approach challenges or conflicts with faculty when they arise. UChicagoGRAD supports graduate students across campus in navigating these foundational relationships by working with students to develop communication, interpersonal, and self-advocacy skills that will set them up for success both in graduate school and beyond.  

What is a mentor?  

A student’s primary academic adviser is the individual responsible for helping students progress through degree requirements, including the writing and research of theses and dissertations. Advisers are typically associated with the same degree program as their student advisees and are often formally assigned either when the student matriculates or early in their program.  

In addition to their primary adviser, a student can also have a faculty mentor who is not a formally assigned academic adviser. Mentorship can be more broadly concerned with contributing to the personal, professional, and scholarly development of students through multiple avenues of guidance including direct feedback on academic work, regular informal conversations about the state of the field, and providing personal support and encouragement. Mentors may be from different departments or fields of study, and students can have mentoring relationships with peers, postdocs, alumni, and others in additional to faculty mentors. 

The word mentor is used here as broad term to refer to both mentorship and advising relationships that graduate students have with faculty. 

Mentorship Advising 

If you are experiencing specific challenges or conflicts with faculty mentors or you want to discuss general strategies for building effective mentoring relationships, you can request a mentorship advising appointment with Amanda Young, Associate Director of Graduate Student Affairs. Schedule an appointment either through GRAD Gargoyle or by emailing amanday@uchicago.edu. 

These appointments through UChicagoGRAD provide students a space outside their academic program to discuss experiences with faculty mentors, raise questions about all aspects of the graduate school experience, develop strategies for handling difficult conversations and situations, and identify resources, policies, or other individuals on campus who can help. Ultimately, these one-on-one conversations aim to equip students with tools needed to build resilience and address challenges within a supportive environment focused on addressing each student’s individual situation. 

What kind of issues can I bring to my Mentorship Advising appointment?  

Students are encouraged to reach out at any point in their student experience. Early on in a graduate program, students may be thinking about establishing relationships and understanding expectations. For PhD students who have reached candidacy, mentorship questions might be focused on balancing the expectations of multiple committee members or talking to faculty about career interests.  

Students are welcome to request a mentorship meeting to discuss general issues (e.g., I was expecting more feedback from my mentor) as well as specific situations (e.g., I am preparing to go on the job market and concerned about getting letters of recommendation from my committee). 

Common issues that bring students to mentorship advising appointments include: 

  • Creating good communication practices and addressing communication problems 
  • Setting boundaries with mentors and navigating power dynamics 
  • Talking to mentors about struggles and asking for help 
  • Changing faculty advisers 
  • Challenges understanding and meeting faculty or program expectations 
  • Receiving and responding to feedback 
  • Leaving a PhD program early 
  • Talking to faculty about careers (in academia, industry, nonprofits, or government) 
  • Moving forward after losing a faculty mentor 

Demystifying Graduate School & Building Support Networks 

Like many aspects of the student experience, mentorship relationships are influenced by more than just what is happening in office hours. Challenges in students’ personal lives or struggles adjusting to graduate school can have a profound impact on the ability to succeed in the classroom and communicate effectively with faculty and other mentors.  

Mentorship advising appointments can therefore also be a place for students to explore how to increase resilience by building support networks, utilizing campus resources, and understanding graduate school timelines, requirements, and policies so that they are better equipped to make informed choices about their education and advocate for themselves in critical moments. 

Do you want to contribute to the conversation on mentorship and share experiences with fellow graduate students? 

UChicagoGRAD is invested in increasing mentorship programming and resources for graduate students. We would love to hear from students who are interested in joining this conversation and providing feedback. Please reach out to Amanda Young (amanday@uchicago.edu) if you are interested in getting involved!