Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education


Date of this Version



Essays on Teaching Excellence Toward the Best in the Academy (2011-2010) 22(7)


Copyright 2011, Wright and Schram. Used by permission


Many graduate programs are reviewing how they mentor their students, taking note of the time to degree and low completion rates in their programs. Given the enormous time challenges that academics face and the complexities of effective mentoring, it can be difficult to change practice despite good will. We write about graduate student mentoring, drawing from research on graduate student careers and the role of mentorship, to make practical suggestions for cultivating an effective mentoring relationship.

The benefits of effective graduate student mentoring noted in the literature are numerous, with large national studies linking effective mentorship to degree completion, high research productivity, and student satisfaction. Notably, benefits also can be conferred to the mentor. Research shows that effective pedagogical mentors of graduate students save time on their teaching and improve their own undergraduate instruction.

Definitions of “mentors” are numerous, sometimes conflating the roles of dissertation advisor and mentor. Of course, formal advisers play a critical role by facilitating transitions to independent doctoral research, as Barbara Lovitts and Susan Gardner find in their studies about factors aiding in degree completion. However, Johnson and Huwe’s excellent guide for graduate students describes many more important mentorship functions, spanning career development (for example, sponsorship, coaching, protection) to psychosocial support (for example, support, role modeling, counseling). Given the multiple functions of mentorship and the developmental stages of graduate students, it is wise for students to cultivate a variety of mentors, which may include other faculty, university administrators, and even senior peers.