How to be a good faculty mentor

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Looking to transition into academia? How can you really become a good mentor to your students and postdocs? Read on for advice from Laura Olsen from the University of Michigan from the NextProf Science 2016 Conference!

You are no longer a grad student, you are the boss

  • You need to keep an emotional distance and not take the behavior of students personally. ¬†They are not your friends
  • Keep the lines of communication clear
    • If there are difficulties, keep trying

When you’re a new faculty member

  • choose graduate students slowly and carefully
  • don’t take on too much too quickly
  • give new grad students a small project to call their own
  • recognize talented students and let them innovate and work more independently

Characteristics of a good mentor

  • tell students you don’t have favorites
  • tell your lab to be honest when talking to others
  • be inclusive
  • be respectful and be open to communication
  • be aware of your reputation
    • some times being shy or introverted can be mistaken for being aloof or standoffish
  • start your managerial training early
  • be willing to receive feedback
  • be open to new ideas
  • be willing to admit your wrong
  • support the interests of your students
    • offer your students and postdocs multiple mentors
    • seek multiple mentors of your own
    • offer the opportunity to network at non-academic conferences if that matches the interests of your students
  • recognize and proactively address personality conflicts

Charactersitics of a bad mentor

  • being rigid in
  • pushing students to be “mini-me”
  • using a one sir
  • non-constructive feedback
  • not give credit/acknowledging contributions to students
  • being a yes person
  • being patronizing (often a sign of insecurity!)
  • not recognizing a need for work-lie balance

How to select good candidates


  • Teach introductory classes and select students
  • Interview students for UROPs

Graduate students:

  • Offer to be on graduate student recruitment committees- speak to your chair
  • Reach out proactively and offer to help write fellowships