A handful of engineering faculty members spent Tuesday morning in the Lurie Engineering Center the day before Winter Semester classes began participating in a program called "Working with Graduate Students".
The event, held by the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, aimed to give newly hired faculty a chance to learn how to interact with the Engineering graduate students they may be doing research with and mentoring.
Though the event catered to new faculty, some of the attendees had been worked at the University for a few years. The program included a series of speakers, panels and activities for the event’s participants.
Tershia Pinder-Grover, one of the event’s coordinators and Interim Director at CRLT in Engineering, said the event was a great way for faculty to gain an appreciation for the complexities of being a mentor to students.
“Many of the faculty have come from a background where they’ve been the mentee, they’ve been the student, but they haven’t had as many opportunities to really think carefully and intentionally about how to mentor,” Pinder-Grover said.
Pinder-Grover said CRLT runs a series of events during the year to help acclimate faculty to their new roles.
“Our goals are to provide them with resources that are very relevant for their first few years in the college,” Pinder-Grover said. “It helps faculty identify, ‘Where do I go if I need more information?’”
Engineering Prof. Jennifer Linderman, associate dean for graduate education, gave a presentation to the attendees about graduate programs at the University and the students in the College of Engineering.
Linderman said one of the many attractive features of the College of Engineering is the allocation of funding for research through the completion of a student’s program. She said though many faculty members are unsettled by the thought of not having the funding for their graduate student researchers, the University has the resources to assist with these concerns.
“The funding is put together through grants, internal and external fellowships, GSI appointments,” Linderman said. “An important point to make here is your department has made the commitment for funding, so if worse comes to worst, you can go to your department for help.”
The event also featured a student panel of Rackham doctoral students in the College of Engineering who discussed their experiences researching at the University. They detailed their struggles and successes of being a graduate students and how their mentors have helped them. All were researching with a faculty members at the University.
Many of the faculty members said they were concerned with recruiting and matching with graduate students for research projects, citing student's preferences to work with tenured and senior professors.
In response, one student said when choosing a professor to work with, she cared more about their personality and the conversation she could have with the professor.
The panel also spoke about faculty communication with students and the importance of checking in. The final part of the meeting was led by Mentoring Others Results in Excellence, a committee of faculty within the Rackham Graduate School that assist faculty and students with mentoring.
Engineering Prof. Steve Skerlos said many difference challenges can arise in mentoring a student.
“Mentorship implies something transformational on the part of the mentee,” Skerlos said. “Something that is guiding them along their way to a new professional career. That’s a lot more than advising.”
Skerlos said the difficulties of mentoring include mismatching goals, unrealistic expectations, conflicting personalities and styles, unreliability and competing responsibilities.
“There’s a huge variability in mentoring norms on campus,” Skerlos said. “The MORE committee works across the University and within the committee itself; there are variable dimensions of variability with mentoring.”
One of the faculty members in attendance, Assistant Engineering Prof. Mosharaf Chowdhury, said the event gave him ideas about how to advise students.
“I have my views on advising based on my experience and the way I interacted with my advisor,” he said. “This gave me some more viewpoints on how other people look at it.”
Chowdhury said his biggest takeaway from the program was learning about how to set expectations for students.
“I would think that all the students always have similar expectations and will always be in sync, but that’s not always the case,” Chowdhury said.