UNM faculty learn tips on how to mentor graduate students

University of New Mexico faculty members recently learned tips and shared experiences on mentoring graduate students. 

Professor of Civil Engineering Julie Coonrod and Distinguished Professor of Psychology Barbara McCrady led the discussion. They presented research related to mentoring graduate students and shared their own experiences with mentoring. Coonrod is the Dean of Graduate Studies, and McCrady has mentored and graduated 40 doctoral students.

The workshop, “Mentoring Graduate Students,” was hosted by Advance at UNM and began with a discussion between the presenters and the attendees, who shared both good and challenging experiences they faced while mentoring graduate students. Some attendees described mentoring as a “win-win experience” and others expressed challenges in fostering motivation in graduate students and navigating difficult conversations. 

“Not every graduate student you have identities with you or connects with you,” Coonrod said. “Create a mentoring agreement.”

According to Coonrod, creating a mentoring agreement is one of the ways to create clear expectations from both parties in the mentorship. Other recommendations Coonrod shared include: get to know the mentee, establish effective communication and help demystify graduate school, which she called her personal favorite. 

“We just take it for granted that they know what they got themselves into,” Coonrod said, referencing the high number of first-generation students enrolled at UNM. 

McCrady shared some of the general principles she uses when mentoring graduate students, one of which is to simply show kindness, care and respect. 

Distinguished Professor of psychology Dr. Barbara S. McCrady speaks to UNM faculty. Photo by Marina Bernal / Advance at UNM.

“They are insecure. They immediately get to graduate school and they get imposter syndrome,” McCrady said about the underlying anxiety she sometimes sees in students during their graduate study.  

Before engaging in an open discussion with the group, McCrady concluded her presentation with the challenges and joys of mentorship for her, bringing the conversation full circle. She shared some of the benefits of mentoring in her own experience such as learning from the students, expanding to new areas of study and developing life-long relationships. These rewards often outweigh the challenges that can sometimes come with mentorship.  

Additional Resources for Graduate Student Mentoring

UNM Graduate Studies mentoring resources

Resources from Arizona State University Graduate College:

Resources from the University of Michigan:

How to Mentor Graduate Students

Resources from the Brown Graduate School: 

Case Studies on Advising and Mentoring

Info from the National Center for Faculty Diversity and Development (NCFDD)