You’ve Got ‘Em – Now What?

NOTE: This post is for new scholars getting situated with their faculty research mentor.

Mentor situated – check. Awesome. Now what? You establish connectivity. You figure out the game plan for your research project. You start to get to know one another. You determine the best method of connecting on a regular basis and you – ideally – set up a weekly meeting time. Although you might not need to meet in person each and every week, chances are in the beginning, you will. Having a weekly meeting time set up in advance ensures that you can access your mentor when needed. It’s also much better than meeting with them during their office hours.

Weekly meetings with your mentor are KEY.

As a McNair scholar, you are special. As a burgeoning researcher and scholar mentee, you deserve to have ample time interacting with, and learning from, your mentor. We make sure our faculty recognize this is our preference for our McNair scholars and good mentors will have already established such a game plan as a matter of protocol.

While you shouldn’t hold back in “being yourself” and allowing your personality to shine, you should allow your mentor to take the lead during these initial weeks. See how they tend to operate, see how your conversations generally go. Keep in mind that the relationship with your faculty mentor will likely evolve and change over time. It’s important to establish a professional working relationship while keeping personal drama and other issues to yourself.

Be professional. Be on time. Be prepared for meetings.

In our experience, most relationships will grow to encompass more personal interactions (ones that are still professional); however, it’s always good practice to keep things like going into great detail about your personal problems, etc. at bay. Right now, most important is that you are learning about research and your field of study from your mentor. This is such a huge bonus as an undergraduate student.

Take full advantage of having this kind of access and opportunity to develop a really cool relationship with your mentor.

Remember that you are (obviously) looking to have a positive experience working with your mentor. By doing a great job (stretching yourself, working hard, taking initiative, going beyond what’s expected) you are pretty much solidifying that you will have a top-notch letter of recommendation from your mentor. The importance of this letter, or reference, cannot be stressed enough! Period.

Mentors help get you into grad school – and get funded.

In many instances, scholars applying to graduate school might not have the “perfect” record with regard to their grades, or their GRE scores might fall just a bit short. Having a strong letter of recommendation (having THREE for that matter) is like having an ace in your back pocket. It’s what selection committees really look at in the application process and it’s also possible that a particularly strong letter referencing your extensive and productive research experience will be what gets you in the door – and what gets you money.

Not to dive in too deeply to the application process already. Just know that these first steps you are taking with your mentor are really important. They are also really special – and exciting. Have fun getting to know your faculty mentor. Show your enthusiasm and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Now is the time! You want to make sure you are understanding the topic of your study. You also want to make sure you are setting up a game plan that will hit all of the critical benchmarks along the way – developing your proposal in the spring, presenting it in April, actually starting your research, completing it by the end of July, writing up your final paper in August and then presenting your results in fall.

Keep in mind that when you sign the “mentoring partnership agreement” with your mentor – this document is meant to help hit all of these important points and to establish a baseline plan from which you can successfully operate. We know there will be tweaks along the way, sometimes even big shifts in your work, but communicating regularly and creating a plan up front will help to make sure you have the best possible experience working with your mentor.

Take home points.

  • Have fun getting to know your mentor!
  • Meet weekly and establish a game plan for your project.
  • Ask questions and be up front if you are not understanding something.
  • Figure out how you will communicate – certainly by meeting in person, but is your mentor good with email, many will give you their cell number, are they okay with you texting them?
  • Always be on time and prepared (to do items completed and a short meeting agenda prepared) for meetings with your mentor.
  • Be responsible and work hard from the get go – your mentor will appreciate this and be super impressed.

Warm fuzzies.

I just spent a few days straight with our McNair group and here’s what I learned:

Tom likes to wear t-shirts that say “noodle boy” on them. He’s got one sweet pair of boots. And he’s one of the most gentle and caring souls around.

Camila is brave and says, “me first,” when it comes to the high ropes. Impressive! You can count on Camila for a smile, but when she’s out, she’s down for the count!

Mara learned the words to a new song and she knows how to breath when it really matters. She’s a quiet giant, I think.

Brady, he’s got the moves, both in the air + on the ground. And he’s not shy about learning how to swing dance, that’s for sure. Swift on the water and a nice guy all around.

Rachel is the gel, she’s the warm + gooey insides of the group. She keeps things rolling with her generous and uplifting personality. If you are going on an adventure, take Rachel along for sure!

Donovan: all I can picture is Donovan floating along the water wrapped up tight in his bright blue life jacket surrounded by the girls. He’s such a great sport and I think bringing him along for the ride this time around is a great choice! He’s open + optimistic and is gonna help you out when you need it.

Holly is a leader and ain’t letting anything get her down. She’s a bit of a crazy girl who knows how to have fun. Plus, she’s got great hair!

You can tell this yooper loves her outdoors. Ashton is a whiz with the canoe and is one of the sweetest gals around.

Taylor R is quietly in-tune with the group and happy to be part of it. He’s ready to stretch his wings. Taylor is up for pretty much anything and enjoys a card game or two!

Kurt’s got an aux cord, he’s “pretty strong” and he’s got some moves. Just ask and he’ll teach you! And if you’re feeling a little “buggy,” Kurt’s your guy to hit up for support + guidance.

Taylor M‘s got it going when it comes to horses and Mortimer became her bud. She’s low key with an unassuming presence, but know that she’s got a lot of spunk and passion that lies right beneath.

Aaron knows the words to *most* songs, is my card-playing partner and a real trooper. His funnies pepper the group and we’re all the better for it.

Jazmin is a quiet observer but isn’t afraid to jump in on the fun. She loves being in a canoe (true or false?) and is a strong foundation for the group.

Jim is a great guy to hang out with and has a willingness + knack for teaching others that I think is really special. He’s got a lot of depth and is always willing to be the “tipper” when it comes to star-tipping, that is!

Kim, what can you really say about Kim? Except that she’s one dynamite partner in crime! She’s my rock and she’s the rock for our group. She takes such great care of us and we love her so much.

Arshia’s gonna hook in just fine! She’s a hoot to be around and will lend much to the group by way of her life experience and expertise. So happy that she could join us for our special retreat!

Jay’s like the “old wise one” that is sure to engage you in some brilliant, often wacky, conversation that you wouldn’t have imagined yourself having. He is a quiet observer with great skill for supporting and encouraging others. He likes to laugh, he’s apt to tell you how it is and he’s got a steady + caring presence.

I learned that I get the “warm fuzzies” when I think about our adventures these past few days. I learned that the 2015 CMU McNair scholars are ready to get things going on the grad school front and they are ready to grab hold of whatever the summer might bring. I’m excited to spend this special time together.

It’s a period of seed planting in my mind. Some seeds will surely be sprouting (and taking off!) this summer; others might be chillin’ in the soil for a while, only to peek out their pretty little heads when the timing is right on. In short, this is one terrific start to the summer. A summer during which our scholars will be hell-bent on figuring out their lives and then some.


Lynn. (like a boss)

One step (or shot!) at a time.