ISSOTL Spotlight: Exploring the mentor-mentee relationship

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During the second poster session, which had the theme of mentor support and development, PURM had the opportunity to speak with Shannon N. Davis and Rebecca M. Jones (both pictured above) from George Mason University. Their poster was aptly titled “Exploring the mentor-mentee relationship: A mixed methods study” and especially pertained to PURM’s focus on mentoring. Their poster abstract can be found here.

The purpose of their study was to understand the relationship that exists between a mentor and a mentee, focusing on how they develop, evolve over time, and influence student competencies. The data was collected through surveys and focus groups which included undergraduate researchers at George Mason University. Their poster not only summarized their findings, but also offered recommendations to further  these important relationships.

The questions that they wanted to answer were if there was something specific about the mentor that resulted in the research benefits to students, what the dynamic of the relationship is, and how can it be best supported. By tackling these questions through a survey and focus group, Davis and Jones were able to ask open-ended questions like “describe how you came to work with your research mentor” and close-ended questions like “How often does your mentor do the following….encouraged you to communicate your thoughts and ask questions…”. The survey consisted of eight open-ended questions and ten closed-ended questions as well as demographics, while the focus group consisted of ten open-ended questions.

Their results showed mentors becoming more than just research mentors. All but one student reported a strong relationship beyond just the research with the mentor becoming life coaches or even pseudo-parents. Those who met regularly with their mentor had a clearer understanding of what their mentor expected of them. One student even remarked, ” Having such personal interactions with my mentor really added to my research experience and taught me more than just what I was learning through my research.” Strong relationships with mentors also resulted in increased student interest, a sense of personal accomplishment, and insight into work-place dynamics.

Some of their recommendations to support this relationship were awards for excellent mentors and financial support or course releases for faculty. The mentor-mentee pairs could also meet up with others to share knowledge about the mentoring process. If faculty presence is maintained in into-level courses, students can more easily find research topics and faculty mentors. There is also more consistency in the relationship as faculty tend to want to work with students they have seen in a classroom setting before.

Davis and Jones also hope to continue their research on this topic. They will explore the relationship between perceived value of mentor influence and personal perception of research competency as well as collect additional data from future undergraduate research students.

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