Selecting a Faculty Mentor
A Successful Combination: The student/faculty connection
MTSU assistant professor of history Molly Taylor-Poleskey explains the university's
URECA grant and shares tips on finding a faculty research mentor. To learn more about
this story, click the link here.
If you are looking for a faculty mentor, check out these tips adapted from UC-Berkley's Finding Faculty Mentors.
STEP #1: Identify Potential Candidates
- Make a list of faculty members with whom you have taken courses and whose work has inspired or influenced your intellectual interests.
- Check out our Featured Mentors page and read through their past URECA projects and research interests.
- Attend lectures on campus to familiarize yourself with other faculty members outside your courses. Visit the MTSU Master Calendar website at www.mtsu.edu/calendar for information on scheduled lectures and presentations.
- Consider the interdisciplinary associations of your interests and identify all relevant departments--including professional schools--that may house potential mentors. Do not limit yourself to your major department.
- Check departmental websites for up-to-date information on faculty research interests and publications.
- Ask other faculty members which of their colleagues share your research interests.
- Talk to fellow students, especially seniors involved in research and/or those active in the majors association -- to find out which faculty members specialize in areas relevant to your proposed research project.
You do not need to do all of these, just choose a few. Your goal is to make a list of 2-3 professors who might be good mentor candidates.
STEP #2: Approaching Potential Mentors
- Find out when potential mentors hold office hours by consulting postings in the departments, on the web, or on faculty office doors.
- Do your homework before meeting with a potential mentor. Inform yourself about the faculty member's research interests, areas of specialization and/or publications. Be able to state why you are seeking out this particular person's advice.
- Before speaking with a faculty member, know what you wish to get out of the meeting: feedback on a research or creative project idea? Help defining the purpose or scope of a project? Suggestions for further background reading? Advice about designing a research instrument or plan? Information about laboratory facilities or equipment? You are running this meeting, so it is important to have an agenda, both to use time efficiently and to show that you are serious about your purpose.
- Don't go in empty handed. At the minimum, bring with you a paragraph summarizing your research project/interests and a list of specific questions/requests for guidance.
- Before leaving the meeting, think about what kind of follow-up you would like to have with the faculty member. If you have established a good rapport and would like to develop an ongoing working relationship, ask if she would be willing to meet with you again to look at a draft of your research proposal, to answer additional questions about a topic you have discussed, or for some other specific purpose.
- If there isn't a good match between your interests and those of the faculty member, ask him to suggest other colleagues you might approach. Even if this particular individual has been very helpful, it may be useful to ask for additional suggestions of people to speak with, since the more input you get in developing your proposal, the better.
- Be confident and assertive about asking for help, but keep the length of your meeting within the established time limit (e.g. 15 minute or 10 minute slots). It is important to be considerate both of the faculty member, who faces many demands on their time, as well as your fellow students waiting outside the door.
STEP #3: Asking for Mentorship
- Once you have identified a faculty member you would like to work with as a mentor, you will need to ask that person to make a commitment to serve as your faculty sponsor or adviser.
- Clearly communicate what kind of time commitment you are asking for and what the mentor's commitments will be (communicating via email vs. in-person, frequency of check-ins, etc.).
- Be sure to allow plenty of lead time before the URECA application deadline and make sure your mentor knows when forms are due.
STEP #4: Do Not Give Up!
- If a faculty member declines to serve as your mentor, do NOT be discouraged! Faculty have many commitments and obligations, which may limit their time available to serve as a mentor.
- If you've followed the advice in step 1, just go on to the next potential mentor on your list. You may need to approach many professors before receiving a "yes" response, but be persistent. It may take time, but you will eventually succeed in finding a mentor. If you are planning ahead now to do interesting research later, you are by definition the kind of highly motivated student that makes the work of being a university professor worthwhile.
- Finally, feel free to come by the Undergraduate Research Center for individual advice on finding a mentor--we are always happy to help.