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Examining the Skills and Methods of Graduate Student Mentors in an Undergraduate Research Setting

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2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Graduate Student Experience

Tagged Divisions

Graduate Studies and Student

Page Count


Page Numbers

23.563.1 - 23.563.15



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Paper Authors


Benjamin Ahn Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Benjamin Ahn is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. He received his B.E. in Aerospace Engineering from the University of New South Wales Australia, and a M.S. in Aeronautics and Astronautics Engineering from Purdue University. His research interests include identifying effective mentoring skills in undergraduate research settings, exploring leadership development of undergraduates, and determining professional engineering practices in universities and industries. Ahn's research has been strongly motivated by challenging, exciting, and inspiring experiences he has had as a teaching assistant in first-year engineering classes and as a graduate assistant for Purdue's Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships (SURF) program and Purdue's Minority Engineering Program (MEP).

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Monica Farmer Cox Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Monica F. Cox, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the School of Engineering
Education at Purdue University and is the Inaugural Director of the Engineering Leadership Minor. She obtained a B.S. in Mathematics from Spelman College, a M.S. in Industrial Engineering from the University of Alabama, and a Ph.D. in Leadership and Policy Studies from Peabody College of Vanderbilt University. Teaching interests relate to the professional development of graduate engineering students and to leadership, policy, and change in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education. Primary research projects explore the preparation of engineering doctoral students for careers in academia and industry and the development of engineering education assessment tools. She is a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career (CAREER) award winner and is a recipient of a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).

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Heidi A. Diefes-Dux Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Heidi A. Diefes-Dux is an Associate Professor in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University. She received her B.S. and M.S. in Food Science from Cornell University and her Ph.D. in Food Process Engineering from the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Purdue University. She is a member of Purdue’s Teaching Academy. Since 1999, she has been a faculty member within the First-Year Engineering Program at Purdue, the gateway for all first-year students entering the College of Engineering. She has coordinated and taught in a required first-year engineering course that engages students in open-ended problem solving and design. Her research focuses on the development, implementation, and assessment of model-eliciting activities with realistic engineering contexts. She is currently the Director of Teacher Professional Development for the Institute for P-12 Engineering Research and Learning (INSPIRE).

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Brenda M. Capobianco Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Examining the Skills and Methods of Graduate Student Mentors in an Undergraduate Research SettingPrevious studies have shown that graduate student mentors have great impact on the education ofundergraduate researchers in various undergraduate research (UR) settings (e.g., summerresearch programs, independent studies, etc.). Graduate mentors’ roles can vary from initiatingand maintaining regular contacts1 to providing research guidance, technical expertise, andencouragement to undergraduate researchers2. Furthermore, they give candid advice for anddiscuss experiences with undergraduates about graduate student life3. The importance ofgraduate mentors for UR students is further highlighted by researchers who claim (1) URstudents have more frequent meetings and interactions with their graduate mentors than theirfaculty advisors4 and (2) graduate students are often asked by their faculty advisor to be the maincontact personnel for UR students5-6.The relationship between graduate students and UR students, however, is not without challenges.Some of the challenges in the relationship are due to graduate mentors’ lack of skills in trainingundergraduates as future researchers7. Studies show a positive relationship betweenundergraduates and graduates in UR settings increases UR students’ understanding of how toconduct research8, as well as, increases UR students enrollment in STEM graduate schools9-10.For these reasons research that purposefully examines ways to build and sustain positive mentor-mentee relationships is clearly warranted. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to identifypractices and skills that (1) graduate mentors have successfully employed in a research settingand (2) undergraduate students have found to be beneficial.The setting for this study was a large research (very high research activity) Midwesternuniversity with graduate and undergraduate students from engineering and science disciplines.Approximately 150 undergraduates enrolled in the university’s summer UR program were givenan opportunity to nominate their mentor for the Best Graduate Mentor Award. The purpose ofthe award was to recognize graduate mentors who provided exceptional guidance and instructionduring the program. As part of selecting the awardees, undergraduates were asked to complete anomination form assessing their mentor’s qualities, describing their relationships, and statingwhy he/she should be recognized as an outstanding graduate student mentor.Eighteen nomination forms were submitted and analyzed for this study. Based on a preliminaryanalysis of the forms, results indicate that undergraduates identified the following graduatementor characteristic as useful: effective organizational skills, clear training, guidance, andexpectations, constructive feedback, and open availability. The final analysis of the forms willdetermine the number of recurring methods employed by graduate mentors and appreciated byundergraduate researchers in the UR program. Results from this study can lead to thedevelopment of training seminars and professional development workshops that educate graduatestudents how to effectively address the challenges associated with mentoring undergraduateresearchers.Bibliography1. Boyle, P., & Boice, B. (1998). Systematic mentoring for new faculty teachers and graduate teaching assistants. Innovative Higher Education, 22(3), 157-179.2. Burlew, L. (1991). Multiple mentor model: A conceptual framework. Journal of Career Development, 17(3), 213-221.3. Laursen, S. L., Seymour, E., Hunter, A. B., Thiry, H., & Melton, G. (2010). Undergraduate research in the sciences: Engaging students in real science. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.4. Behar-Horenstein, L., Roberts, K. W., & Dix, A. C. (2010). Mentoring undergraduate researchers: An exploratory study of students' and professors' perceptions. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 18(3), 269-291.5. Dooley, D. A., Mahon, R. M., Oshiro, E. A. (2004). An undergraduate research opportunity: collaboration between undergraduate and graduate students. Journal of Food Science Education, 3, 8-136. Gonzalez, C. (2001). Undergraduate research, graduate mentoring, and the university’s mission. Science 293, 1624-1626.7. Chan, A. (2008). Mentoring ethnic minority, pre-doctoral students: an analysis of key mentor practices. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 16(3), 263-277.8. Hunter, A. B., Laursen, S. L., & Seymour, E. (2007). Becoming a scientist: the role of undergraduate research in students’ cognitive, personal, and professional development. Science Education, 91, 36-74.9. Barlow, E. L., & Villarejo, M. (2004). Making a difference for minorities: Evaluation of an educational enrichment program. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 41(9), 861–881.10. Carter, F. D., Mandell, M., & Maton, K. I. (2009). The influence of on-campus, academic year research on STEM Ph.D outcomes: evidence from the Meyerhoff Scholars program. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 31(4), 441-462.

Ahn, B., & Cox, M. F., & Diefes-Dux, H. A., & Capobianco, B. M. (2013, June), Examining the Skills and Methods of Graduate Student Mentors in an Undergraduate Research Setting Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19577

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