Finding a Mentor

Finding a mentor means becoming a mentee. Being a mentee is one of the most important roles you will have as a undergraduate student at Case Western Reserve University. We encourage you to dedicate yourself to fostering a strong mentoring relationship with faculty members and/or other university administrators. Doing so will not only enhance your academic experience, but also your professional career.

Mentoring can help facilitate your transition from high school to your undergraduate studies experience and beyond. Unlike in high school, where classes were introducing you to possible areas of study, in undergraduate school your goal is to gain knowledge and skills to be successful as a member of the broader community and as a professional. Your coursework, extracurricular activities, and the personal and professional relationships you foster in undergraduate school with faculty, administrators and fellow students facilitate your entry into the post graduate world.

Mentoring goes beyond issues of professional competence. Many aspects of professional socialization and personal support are central to mentoring as well as to your professional life after graduation. In this latter stage, the mentoring cycle comes full-circle, and you may find yourself in the role of mentor—an opportunity to repay the benefits you received in your own former mentoring relationships.

Conduct a Self-Appraisal

"Mentoring is most effective when the mentee drives the relationship. Most people are willing to help, but it is hard to provide meaningful mentorship if there is no direction from the student.

"Emma is a stellar example of a prepared student who has a clear idea of what she wants to do in her career. This clarity allows us to have productive discussions about how I can help her achieve her goals by providing advice and networking opportunities.

"From the beginning our relationship was upfront and honest about what was expected from both of us."

Marvin Nieman, PhD
Assistant Professor, Pharmacology

Start the mentor selection process by first conducting a critical self-appraisal. Reflect on what will help you to thrive as an undergraduate student. Use this information later on to match yourself with faculty or others who can provide you with what you need. The following are types of questions you should ask yourself.

  • What are my objectives in doing my undergraduate level studies?
  • What type of training do I want and/or need?
  • How do I want to develop outside the classroom?
  • What are my strengths?
  • What are my weaknesses?
  • What skills do I need to develop?
  • What kinds of research or creative projects do I want to explore?
  • How much independent versus guided work do I want to do?
  • What type of career do I want to pursue?

You can identify potential mentors using a variety of formal and informal strategies. Here are some suggestions.

Do Your Homework
  • Familiarize yourself with professors' work to gain a sense of their past and current interests and methodologies.
  • Immerse yourself in academic and social activities. Observe how faculty members interact with colleagues and undergraduate students.
  • Enroll in or audit classes taught by the faculty members who most interest you. Attend their public presentations.
  • Ask other students about their advisors and mentors. Share your interests with other students and ask them for suggestions about whom you should meet.
  • Join extracurricular activities that connect to your interest. Find opportunities to connect with the other students and the faculty/staff advisors.
  • Seek out programming that can assist in your own development. Connect with the individuals organizing the event.
  • Reach out to offices that represent areas of interest and ask to meet with the staff member(s)
Have Realistic Expectations

"Though you come across scores of students each year, you know that some students are special. They seek you out for mentorship.

"Maddie was one such. When she came to me for direction, I listened to her and felt that her interests are better served if she takes the Systems & Control Major pathway. Though she has taken only two courses from me, she drops once in a while to update me on her progress and interests.

"It is very satisfying for me as a Professor to have motivated a student. At the end of the day, this is what keeps us going!"

Sree N. Sreenath, PhD
Associate Professor, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

In order for you to develop good mentoring relationships, you must be proactive. It is your responsibility to find and recruit the mentors who can help you achieve your goals. You also need to have a realistic idea about what any single mentor can do for you. Faculty members and staff are more likely to respond to requests for specific types of assistance they know they can provide. Analyze what you need from a specific faculty or staff member and explicitly ask for those things.

Roles and Responsibilities

Problems in mentorship most often develop because of misunderstandings about the expectations each side has of the other. Although you do not need to set up a formal contract, some people find it helpful to specify mutual agreements about their respective roles and responsibilities. Some of the expectations you will need to discuss and clarify, especially if your mentor is also your advisor, include the following: availability (in person or in other ways), goals, meetings, feedback, reminders, and publishing.

Before your first meeting with your mentor you should take time to clarify your goals. Develop a work plan that includes both short-term and long-term goals, as well as a timeframe for reaching those goals. At least once each semester (but preferably more often) as well as any additional training and experiences you need in order to achieve your goals.


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