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Mentor vs. Monolith

Finding and being a good graduate advisor

Mohamed Noor, Caiti Heil

Mentor versus Advisor

Mohamed: As a student, you can’t rely on a single mentor for everything, so you’ll need to seek mentors beyond the advisor. You can have different mentors for different facets of your training. For example, someone can be your go-to person for advice on teaching versus a particular career option versus different aspects of their research. After finishing graduate school, students will be in positions where they may not have a formally assigned “mentor,” and they’ll have to create and foster relationships among colleagues to play these mentoring roles for them. For me now as a professor, I go to one colleague for advice on running the lab, but I go to a different colleague when I want to bounce ideas related to teaching.

Additionally, former advisors continue to serve in mentoring roles, but students may be surprised at the high frequency with which they are solicited to provide mentoring advice back to their former mentors. Ultimately, we know we’ve succeeded in our jobs when our former students serve as active colleagues, even if in a different career or role.

Caiti: Usually we think of age as being important, but in reality, you get some level of mentoring from others who are the same age or even younger.

Mohamed: Well, thanks Caiti—this was fun! I look forward to receiving more mentoring from you in the future. I’m really glad that you and I don’t have communication problems.

Caiti: Um, well, actually Mohamed, there is something I wanted to talk about with you.…

Mohamed: Uh oh.…


  • Braxton, John M. 2012. Education: Make mentorship matter. Nature 487:165–166.
  • National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine. 1997. Adviser, Teacher, Role-Model, Friend: On being a Mentor to Students in Science and Engineering. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.
  • Noor, Mohamed A. F. 2012. You’re Hired! Now What? A Guide for New Science Faculty. Sunderland, MA.: Sinauer Associates.

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