Selecting Research Mentors

What is a Research Mentor?

A research mentor is a person who provides guidance and who willingly passes their knowledge and expertise on to you. Faculty Mentors assist you in choosing a research topic and developing a research proposal. Sometimes, Scholars work with their Mentors on a project that already has been designed by the Mentor (such as a laboratory research project or a project that requires field research). Most times, Scholars are encouraged to design their own research project and carry it out independently.

Mentor/Mentee Relationship

As in all relationships, the Mentor/Mentee relationship has no guarantees; it needs time, attention, and nurturing in order to thrive. During the eight-week McNair Summer Research Institute, the responsibility of the Faculty Mentor is to work closely with his/her McNair Fellow to provide the necessary guidance and knowledge for the Fellow to complete the research and paper in a timely and scholarly fashion. Mentors attend periodic meetings in the summer, and attend the UMBC McNair Research Conference to be held annually September. In addition to monitoring the Fellow’s growth and development in research, Faculty Mentors may suggest opportunities for Fellows to attend professional association meetings/conferences, co-author publications for submission to professional journals, and/or advise them about graduate school opportunities. Ultimately, the Faculty Mentor/Scholar relationship will result in the student acquiring relevant insight and understanding of the research process, the university professorate, and the requisite skills and knowledge to achieve excellence in graduate school.

The following are tips for selecting a Faculty Mentor:

Find out what type of research interests you and the research in which potential Mentors are involved

  • Find out what degrees your potential Mentor holds, and where they were earned
  • Resources for finding out who is doing what include: other undergraduates, other instructors, Graduate Students and TAs, former McNair Mentors or Scholars, your McNair Advisors, campus websites and departmental directories

Once you compile a list of potential Mentors, ask questions

  • Have they been treated fairly?
  • Have they enjoyed their work?
  • Have they ever had problems getting guidance?
  • What is the best way to approach this Mentor should a problem arise?
  • Have other graduate students/mentees been satisfied with this Mentor?

Make Contact

  • Use email, the telephone, or arrange a meeting with a mutual acquaintance
  • Try to introduce yourself to potential Mentors in person so they can put a face with your name. Remember that professors deal with hundreds of students every day
  • If you encounter problems, schedule a meeting with the McNair Program’s mentor liaison, Dr. Jamaine S.C. Davis, to come up with some ideas about who to select and strategies for approaching a potential mentor

Make Yourself Stand Out

  • Tell potential Mentors that you are a McNair Scholar
  • Talk about your interest in graduate school and future plans
  • Tell them that you are committed to the Program and the research
  • Let them know that financial stipends are provided to you (and them) by the Program

Ask Questions About their Expectations

  • What should I be reading?
  • What is the end result/goal?
  • Do students get credit for their work?
  • What do I need to know before I begin?
  • Can I present this research at scholarly conferences?
  • Is there a potential for publishing? Will I receive credit as an author?
  • How much time will I need to devote to my research project to get the most out of it?
  • Are there any preparations I can make before summer research begins (classes to take, workshops or conferences to attend)?

Making the Final Selection

  • Who seems to be the best connected?
  • Who is doing the most interesting research?
  • Who seems to trust in me and respect my abilities?
  • Which potential Mentor do I like the best (on a gut level)?
  • With whom do I think I might have a lasting relationship well into the future?
  • Who seems to have the best established academic reputation? Reputation amongst students?

Use these guidelines to ensure solid working relationships with mentors as an undergraduate McNair Scholar and into the future. Remember that becoming a McNair Mentor is an honor for faculty members. Don’t be intimidated or feel as if you are bothering professors by asking them to spend time with you; it is their responsibility to be role models, and their greatest joy as teachers.