Thursday, December 11, 2008

A leg up?

During a student discussion with a faculty candidate, it came out that undergraduate mentors often help their students navigate their way to grad school. How prevalent is this? What exactly do advisors do to help their students? Some students even have the advantage of having parents in academia. How much of a benefit do both these provide?


  1. I had a spectacular mentor in my undergraduate advisor. We still keep in touch. He helped me with the graduate admissions process by serving as a sounding board for me, helped me vet various schools and programs, wrote me a letter of reference, and described how to work within a campus visit. None of these conversations seemed outside of our usual relationship. I decided to go to graduate school after an experience I had with him as a mentor for an undergraduate research experience. I wouldn't describe what he did as providing me undue advantage; he provided support much like I hope my graduate school advisor will provide support when I finish my PhD.

  2. I think it depends on the mentor. I worked with three different profs as an undergrad, and I think one of them probably would have remained active, except that he moved to a different institution. I feel a bit self-conscious about writing without a reason. (Which is totally stupid...)

    On the other hand, I met my MS advisor while I was an undergrad, and he did a lot to help me through the program...or at least, a lot more than most of my friends' advisors. I think it has to do more with his disposition than anything.

    I would have loved to have parents who were academics...or at the very least had finished college. I think it would have done a lot to help adjust to college. On the other hand, I don't know that it is a guarantor of success. :-)

  3. I still ask my undergraduate mentor for letters. It doesn't hurt that this mentor is in my field and so can be a great asset /connector for me. Undergrad Mentor has definitely provided me with good support since I graduated waaay too many years ago, and I plan to continue to stay in contact.

  4. I had a partial advisor in undergrad. I worked on a non-senior-thesis research project with him during my last semester and worked for him as a student hourly through the following summer. He didn't help me with the grad school search and application and I didn't think to ask him. He still provided me with valuable experience in how research works and how scientists interact.

    I also had a summer internship that helped me decide to pursue grad school. I was part of a field study and completed a small research project in collaboration with my chosen mentor. He was a bit more helpful with professional development.

    I do not think it is unfair to have a mentor guide their students through grad school applications. I had never considered the idea before. I figured everyone was pretty much on their own in applying for grad school.