How to be a Good Mentee

Published: Tues., April 20, 2021

Many graduate students may find themselves working as a mentor, however all graduate students serve as mentees, learning from their professors and advisers. There are many things you can do as a mentee to ensure you get the most out of your experience. As you may know, mentors are responsible for helping you navigate your graduate school experience, develop teaching or research skills, or help prepare you for your future career.

Come Prepared and Do Your Research. Faculty members are busy people. Go into meetings with them with a plan. Many graduate students find it helpful to have a list of questions when you meet with your mentor. Another useful strategy is to complete an Individual Development Plan. This will guide you initial conversations with your mentor to help you both better understand your goals and what you should do to reach them.

Don't be afraid to share your needs and concerns with your mentor. If they know about your career goals they can better help you prepare for them. Some students and mentors may feel comfortable sharing more details about their personal life, but it's entirely up to you if you feel comfortable sharing that information. That being said, if there is something that is particularly relevant to your performance, you should share that (e.g. parental responsibilities that limit when you can meet, learning or physical disabilities that might require accommodations, etc.)

Ask Questions. Asking questions is essential. Remember no one knows everything when they start graduate school. It's okay to ask about next steps, how to do something, or just for general advice. It's not uncommon to experience some imposter syndrome when you start graduate school and think everyone else knows things you you don't or that they belong here and you don't. The truth is that everyone feels that way at some point and you are in your program because you have earned it. The students who succeed are the ones who aren't afraid to ask questions and learn what they don't know. This may make you feel even more comfortable with your mentor going forward.

It is also really common for students who are first generation students or from groups unrepresented in graduate school to feel that afraid to ask questions. Remember: your mentors and faculty want you to ask questions.

Take Notes. Bring a notepad or a computer to all your meetings with your mentor. Take notes of what was discussed. If you talked about tasks that you'll do next, some students find it helpful to email their mentor/adviser after with their notes. This allows you to clarify what was said and make sure you both on the same page. Miscommunications can be a common source of issues between a mentor and mentee so anything you can do to prevent those before they happen will be to your benefit.

Look for a Variety of Mentors. You may not have all you mentoring needs met by one person. If you need an additional mentor, don't be afraid to look for people with other expertise. The graduate population has changed over the years; it is far from being heterogeneous in gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, family status, language, and age. Students from historically underrepresented or marginalized groups have a harder time finding faculty role models who might have had experiences similar to their own. This can lead to student feelings of isolation, lack of confidence, and worry (Rackham Graduate School, 2020). An essential ingredient for fulfillment and success in graduate school for these students is developing and maintaining a healthy relationship with a mentor. Research has shown that graduate students with stronger mentoring relationships tend to be more successful because they feel more comfortable seeking advice and support as they move through their program (Curtin, Stewart, & Ostrove, 2013; Wrench & Punyanunt, 2004).

Your mentor does not have to necessarily be the student’s faculty adviser. Although most faculty advisers aspire to have healthy and productive relationships with their students and provide excellent guidance, some are more concerned with teaching, research, and making sure their students stay on track toward their degree. A mentor, on the other hand, can be a faculty member or non-academic who can serve as a role model and helps the student develop his or her professional identity, whether in academia or the private industry.

Do Your Work. If you agree to do something, do it. Show your mentor you are reliable and organized. If mentors feel that you are they are more likely to help you find additional opportunities. You get out of an experience what you put in.


Curtin, N., Stewart, A. J., & Ostrove, J. M. (2013). Fostering academic self-concept: Advisor support and sense of belonging among international and domestic graduate students. American Educational Research Journal, 50(1), 108-137.

Rackham Graduate School (2020). How to mentor graduate students: A guide for faculty. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan.

Wrench, J. S., & Punyanunt, N. M. (2004). Advisee‐advisor communication: An exploratory study examining interpersonal communication variables in the graduate advisee‐advisor relationship. Communication Quarterly, 52(3), 224-236.