Jennifer Khirallah, Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. candidate
Often times as a graduate student you are tasked with mentoring undergraduate students. This may be a daunting task to some while others view it as an easy assignment. There is a lot of time and consideration that must go into mentoring other students. I think one of the biggest things overlooked is that the whole point of mentoring is to teach or inspire the student, and that goal needs to be constantly considered when you’re in this position.
I work in a research lab at Tufts where graduate students can mentor undergraduates on their projects. There is nothing official about the process, its more or less just finding students (or them finding you) that are interested in your research. They help with various aspects of the experiments including design, execution, and analyzing data. However, its beneficial to keep in mind that there is a learning curve, and they are there to learn and not necessarily to contribute right away. If they know that you want them to learn and practice instead of just being an extra set of hands, it takes a lot of pressure and expectations out of the relationship and keeps it purely educational. If they make a mistake in one of their experiments, they’ll be honest with you and you can solve the problem together.
To be a good mentor is to be human. You have to be empathetic and understanding. You have to want to teach them something they are interested in, and help them in all areas of their professional, academic, and personal development when asked. If you can be a good mentor to undergraduates, then you can learn something about yourself and develop your communication and teaching skills along the way.
I have found mentoring to be extremely rewarding. I have taught my students the value of research, and they have become better scientists and have learned about their own personal interests and dislikes. I have learned about myself as well, including how to act in a leadership position and how not to act. Relationships like these have the ability to shape both participants in various aspects and can be such a gratifying experience.