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Improving Academic Mentoring
 How does a graduate student (or postdoc) select a mentor? We have already highlighted desirable characteristics that go beyond expertise or amount of funding, but these and other considerations are important and they should be considered carefully as one looks at a potential mentor.
Of course, research interests are of great significance and a first step in considering who one would potentially like as mentor. After identifying research areas of interest, students are likely to seek out a potential mentor with funding but without going through the necessary steps to answer a most critical question, Will this be a likely successful mentoring relationship?
Some important questions that a student should ponder when considering a potential advisor are illustrated in Fig- ure 5. Answers to these questions can be found by search- ing CVs and publications online and by asking questions of the faculty member and of current and former students. Although the mentee needs to tread carefully in not being too aggressive when interviewing a faculty member, diligent research will help the mentee increase the likelihood of a successful professional development experience.
For example, a potential mentor with an active research program involving students and that has led to steady pub- lications and funding points to a foundation for a mentor- ing environment that will lead to strong career preparation. Funding also suggests that the mentor can provide for re- search needs and send the student to meetings or to visit other labs to learn new methods. Recognition is also impor- tant because it suggests that a mentor could provide intro- ductions for their students for postdocs and even jobs.
Beyond productivity, funding, and reputation, training re- cord and lab environment are critically important issues, best asked of former and current students (but not in the presence of the mentor!). If a potential mentor has trained several students and the students have completed their work in a reasonable timeframe, attended conferences, published papers, and found good postdocs and/or jobs, this speaks well for the potential success of the mentee.
Lab environment is a critically important issue as well. Is the atmosphere relaxed or formal, collaborative or competitive? There is no one best model, but it is imperative that the men- tee ensure in advance that the environment is the kind that will be best for his/her own personality and way of work- ing. Ultimately, the mentee must decide for himself/herself whether the mentor is going to be someone who will make
Figure 5. Some issues to consider for would-be student men- tees when selecting a mentor.
time for the student, provide intellectual and emotional sup- port, and assist in professional development in the short and long term. Asking questions of current and former mentees provides critical data in making a decision about working with a particular mentor.
Our goal has been to describe academic environments, prin- ciples, and issues related to mentoring at different stages. We have attempted to stress the importance of mentoring at all lev- els and hope that we have caused both the student and the aca- demic advisor to think carefully about what it means to mentor and to be mentored. As described, the benefits of mentoring are large and lasting. The mentoring cycle—from mentee to mentor, from Initiation to Redefinition–improves academic achievement and professional preparation and establishes close-knit, supportive academic and professional communities.
Kent L. Gee is a professor of physics at Brigham Young University in Provo, UT. He maintains a diverse student-based research group in nonlinear acoustics, jet and rocket aeroacoustics, acoustic imaging methods, noise control, and education. He has focused significant
attention on undergraduate mentoring, helping students publish articles on diverse topics in acoustics from the Ru- bens flame tube demonstration to aircraft Gatling guns to Balinese gongs. He is a fellow of the Acoustical Society of America and editor of Proceedings of Meetings on Acoustics.
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