It’s important that you and your mentor have a common understanding of what the research experience will be. Meet with your mentor to discuss what each of you expects. Consider using a mentor-mentee contract to help you and your mentor talk about your goals and constraints and come to a mutually beneficial agreement. To prepare for this meeting, consider the questions listed below. You can download a sample mentoring contract at the bottom of this page.
Why do you want to do research? Why does your mentor want to supervise an undergraduate researcher?
Sample Answer: I want to do research to gain an understanding for how research is done, to find which areas of research I am interested in, and help make a change for the better in the world. Jillian wants to supervise undergraduate research because her goal is to become a teacher and she sees this as a great teaching experience.
What are your and your mentor’s career goals? How can this research experience and the mentor-mentee relationship help each of you achieve them?
Sample Answer: My career goal is to get my MD or a Master of Biotechnology. Jillian’s career goals is to finish her PhD and then teach undergraduate level classes. By providing us an educational experience that can have a long lasting effect on the world will help us both achieve our goals.
What would success in this research experience look like to you? To your mentor?
Sample Answer: If the team accurately and efficiently completes the growing and measuring of all the strains of maize. If the undergraduates gain an understanding of the research process and gain an interest in plant science Jillian would see it as a success.
How many hours per week and at what times/days do you and your mentor expect you to work?
Sample Answer: We planned on about 10 hours per week, most of which is on Wednesday.
Assuming a good fit, how long do you expect to work with this research group? Ideally, how long would your mentor like you to remain with the group?
Sample Answer: Till the end of this semester. For Jillian she wants me to stay at least till the end of the semester, but would like to have me back next semester as well.
What, if any, specific technical or communication skills do you expect to learn as part of the research experience? What specific skills would your mentor like you to learn?
Sample Answer: Use of various lab equipment, speaking clearly and effectively communicating to the members of the team.
Once you are trained in basic techniques, would you prefer to continue to work closely with others (e.g. on a team project), or independently? What level of independence does your mentor expect you to achieve once basic techniques are learned? How will s/he know when you have reached this level?
Sample Answer: I am fine working both as a team and individually, I prefer to work as a team but some projects only require one person. When I work alone I tend to be more of a perfectionist. Jillian has us working both as a team and individually. We have group meetings on Wednesday and each of us is assigned a day during the week to do individual work. Due to the nature of the work she is already comfortable with us working independently.
To whom do you expect to go if you have questions about your research project? Does your mentor expect you to come solely (or first) to him/her, or should you feel free to ask others in the research group? If others, can your mentor identify those in the group who would be good resource people for your project?
Sample Answer: If I have questions I can contact either Jillian or her mentor, Professor Kaeppler. Jillian would expect us to come to her first, but told us that if someone else might have the answer closer at hand to ask them instead. Jillian has pointed out the individuals we can go to for questions.
If you have previous research experience, what skills do you expect to bring to your new research group? If a student has previous research experience, is there anything the mentor should share about this research group that is unique and the student should be aware of?
Adapted from: Branchaw, J. L., Pfund, C., and Rediske, R. (2010) Entering Research Facilitator’s Manual: Workshops for Students Beginning Research in Science, Freeman & Company.