Our teaching is organized around defined learning outcomes, with planned activities to help our students achieve – but we often leave these critical learning moments to chance in our mentoring relationships. This generally means students must forge their own research ‘curriculum’ to develop the skills and content they need. Regardless of our intentions, students without external supports to share with them the hidden curriculum of academic success will often fail to obtain all the knowledge, skills, and experiences they need to be successful, generating inequitable mentorship outcomes. While not everything in a mentoring relationship can be organized in advance, some structure can help mentors provide equitable, student-centered mentorship experiences and give all mentees an opportunity to define their journey. To organize my mentorship, I use a tool I developed called the ‘mentorship syllabus’. The mentorship syllabus has a three-part iterative design, to be used each term:
- Early on, meet with the student to discuss their goals – You can’t mentor students if you don’t know where they are now, and you don’t know where they want to go. What are their career goals, or what are they exploring? What skills/content do you feel are important for them to develop to reach these goals? What skills do they want to develop? How often should you meet and on what days/times? Do they have questions for you?
- Develop the syllabus using backward design – From conversation one, develop a set of learning outcomes. They can be ‘technical skills’, ‘content’, ‘process of science’, or other categories of outcomes; you’ll likely have a mix of several categories. Any more than 5-7 of these will likely overwhelm a student if you try to do them all in one term, so remember to be realistic. They are likely to depend heavily on a student’s desired careers – a student that wants to go to graduate school may focus on research skills, biological content, and scientific writing whereas a student interested in science communication may focus on working with lab members on interpersonal scientific communication, multimedia skills, and writing for a lay audience.
Once you have this set, determine what you would consider ‘evidence’ that they have learned this outcome. For example if a learning outcome is ‘Practice ethical conduct of research’, you might consider the evidence of this ‘Keeps lab notebook in accordance with lab’s ethical practice guidelines’. Finally, you determine what specific activities you will plan to help them achieve the outcome – in this case, you might have a conversation with students about why ethics matter in science, show them examples of good and poorly kept lab notebooks, have a document that explains specifically the lab’s notebook policies, and review their lab notebooks with them every few weeks to catch errors.
Once you have this list of activities, plot them out like a course timeline to make sure everything ‘fits’. Run it by your student for feedback and you’re ready to go!
- Reflect – periodically throughout the term, check in with your student and with yourself – is this plan working, or is it too much to handle? Is this really giving them the experiences they need – did you set the learning outcomes and activities to the right standard, and are you providing enough/the right supports? Good teaching and mentorship rely on listening deeply (sometimes to what is unsaid!) and reflecting on if your techniques work. Build time into the syllabus to prompt you to engage in reflection as time goes by.
Ultimately, the mentorship syllabus will look different for different people; it is constantly evolving for me as well! I think this tool is best paired with a few other tools/techniques, including a mentorship philosophy that details the sort of environment, relationships, and growth you intend to cultivate, and a lab contract/handbook that is continually revised with input from all lab members once a year. This document contains information related to lab roles and expectations, code of conduct and ethics, how to communicate, lab policies relating to data storage and collection, open science, and logistics, internal/external resources, special lab ‘traditions’ and more.
Fundamentally, these documents are only guides/tools, not the be-all-end-all of good mentorship; by being intentional and building in opportunities for structured reflection and listening, I believe my mentorship will be more student-centered, equitable, and productive.
2018-present Purnima Sachdeva, Drexel
2018-present Serena Joury, Drexel
2020 Andrew Snedeker, Drexel
2018-2020 Angelina Gomez, Drexel
2018-2020 Devneet Kainth, Drexel
2017-2020 Cheyenne McNair, Drexel
2017-2019 Annette Kang, Drexel
2017-2019 Sumaiya Zahid, Drexel
2017-2019 Michaela Schuster, Drexel
2018-2019 Rheanna Congdon, Drexel
2018-2019 Chandler Olson, Drexel
2018-2019 Lauren Hultgren, Drexel
2018-2019 Brandon Garcia, University of Cienfuegos, Cuba
2018 Zachary Smith, Drexel
2018 Margaret McCurdy, Drexel
2017-2018 Natalie Carroll, Drexel
2016 Ryan Carpenter, SUNY Geneseo
2018-2019 Sophi Schneider, Philadelphia