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Best Mentoring Practices

Who Are the NC State Mentors?

  • NC State seeks on- and off-campus faculty mentors as well as mentors from the large pool of scientists/professionals/writers/historians/artisans within local, state and federal agencies, and from municipalities, corporations, foundations, and extension and engagement arenas.

The Mentor’s Role

  • Position students to become active contributors to the knowledge/artistic pool – indeed – to become excellent mentors themselves.
  • Prepare the student for more than the mentor’s research/creative project by including the student in allied functions/responsibilities/social activities within the discipline. This may include taking the student to weekly departmental seminars/socials/lunchbox gatherings and even regional or national meetings. Introduce the student to colleagues and help them obtain a concept of “career” that goes beyond the office/lab/library/studio. Treat them like new graduate students/career employees. Show them what you do (from grant writing to editing of journal proofs). By all means tell them why you love your work! This is how undergraduates fall in love with both the research discipline and a career. Be a role model for the next generation of scholars/artisans.
  • Instill research ethics by example…early. This office suggests the review of the Code of Ethics for Undergraduate Research adopted by CUR in July 2017. We also recommend the NSF RCR 101: Foundations in the Responsible Conduct of Research that the mentor may wish to require of the student. If you are working in the realm of computers you may wish to have students look at
  • Define a contractual agreement that includes time requirements, expectations of performance in a timely way, expected fate of the work (to be published alone or with the mentor; senior thesis; poster presentation and a paper), and a detailed plan of work with “a way out.” The “way out” refers to the need for the mentor to approve a good experimental design and methodology that, if followed closely and if repeatable, is good work even if “positive” results are not found.
  • Be sure the research assignment is realistic when considering the past course work and experience of the student. The student may become frustrated and quit for the wrong reason.
  • Familiarize the student with specific protocols of your work space such as (1) your laboratory safety plan, (Lab Safety Module via the NIH website) (2) specifics on care and use of animals (SPARCS Tutorial Animals) or human subjects (SPARCS Tutorial Humans), property rights and patents (Resources for Inventors), and proper use and maintenance of equipment, (3) your methods for logging in data and what to do if a methodological error has occurred, (4) who to turn to if you are not around, (5) what general authority your graduate students have in co-mentoring the student’s research, etc.
  • If you accept a first year student into your research program remember that the student is only 2-3 months out of high school; be careful with expectations of the time commitment and background knowledge. Some mentors prefer new students because they want the student to be involved for four years; other mentors seek out only juniors or seniors. The national trend is to get students involved in their first year! Indeed, Dr. Eric Davies of the Department of Botany seeks out enthusiastic high school students!
  • Graduate students make excellent mentors and the experience they get while doing so prepares them for mentor roles following their graduation. We ask that faculty retain the key responsibility in establishing the role the graduate student will have with the student and that sufficient oversight is made to assure a beneficial partnership between the undergraduate and the graduate student.
  • Build respect through praise of good work and constructive suggestions for improvement.
  • Meet on a neutral playing field from time to time, i.e., not always in your office/lab/studio.
  • Have weekly progress meetings; this eliminates surprises and stress. The meetings can be as short as 10 minutes or longer as needed. Be a good listener and share your own discoveries, frequently. Establish realistic deadlines for units of work.
  • Help prepare students for their future oral or poster presentations by including them in your own preparation of materials (software used, layout design, special guidelines). Recommend our website’s links for how to prepare a poster presentation:
  • Be sure to volunteer to the student that you wish to write letters of recommendation for employment, scholarships, national fellowship competitions, and admission to advanced degree programs.
  • Keep in touch when it’s all over. If you’ve done your job well, keeping in touch will be a pleasure.

Resources Used

  • “Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend – on being a mentor to students in science and engineering,” National Academy Press, Washington, DC 1997, ISBN 0-309-06363-9
  • Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) QUARTERLY, June 2000, Vol. 19, Number 4. Entire issue
  • Council on Undergraduate Research (CUR) Code of Ethics for Undergraduate Research, July 2017
  • Smith, K.S. (2001). Faculty development that transforms the undergraduate experience at a research university. In D. Lieberman and C. Wehlburg (Eds.) To improve the academy: Resources for faculty, instructional and organizational development, 193-204. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing.
  •, NSF RCR 101: Foundations in the Responsible Conduct of Research
  •, by Dr. Edward F. Gehringer (
  • Lab Safety Modules from the National Institutes of Health