mentor of the millennium

Recently I told my advisor that I was feeling anxious about generals.

Here’s what he had to say about that:

You can count on me, Lauren, and Adele to be supportive and consistent and productive, both at your generals and in general. You’re doing a fantastic job in grad school, evidenced by efficiency in getting data collected, working on many drafts of a challenging empirical paper, getting the GRFP, and etc etc. These are the kinds of factors that add up to a committee being in your corner. Feeling anxious is natural and motivating and horrible, so let it flow in a healthy way, and you know you can work through it. Might we request more work or different work or further reading? Of course. But it’s nothing you can’t handle. Might we steer you toward or away from certain ideas? Of course. Who cares. It’s my job (and Lauren’s job, and Adele’s job) to be helpful and support your career, and you’ll see that at every turn during your generals. And who knows, we might just say “Uhh. Great job. Keep it up.”

It’s times like this that I’m extra thankful to be here.

mentoring contract

Recently I attended a mentorship workshop for graduate students who are mentoring undergraduates in research. One suggestion was creating a mentoring “contract” where mentors and mentees can discuss their expectations openly and figure out what works best for their relationship. I think getting everyone on the same page from the get-go is a great idea, so I modified an example from the workshop and came up with this:

The purpose of this “contract” isn’t to create a list of obligations for each of us. This is a way to negotiate healthy boundaries and make our expectations clear. Our relationship will be unique, as is any relationship, so this is just a starting point for discussion. Please raise your own questions and concerns throughout the internship. You can talk to me about anything – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and I will strive to be the best mentor possible.


  • What are your research goals and personal goals in this internship (and beyond)?
  • What are my research goals and personal goals in this internship (and beyond)?
  • What is a reasonable timeline for these goals?
  • How will we help each other strive towards these goals?


  • What are your expectations for your role and my role?
  • What are my expectations for my role and your role?


  • What are our preferred means of communication?
  • What is a reasonable timeline for communication?
  • How available should we be in the lab and outside the lab?
  • How do we record research progress, questions, and any problems that arise?


  • When are we both going to be present at lab?
  • When are we both going to be available at lab?
  • Are lab hours strict or flexible?
  • Are there times when we’re definitely unavailable?


  • What does “professionalism” mean, in the context of our mentor-mentee relationship?
  • What does “professionalism” mean, in the context of our lab?

Concerns and Resources

  • What concerns do you have about being a mentee?
  • What concerns do I have about being a mentor?
  • What resources are available to you when I’m not available?
  • What resources are available to me?


This year, I’m also serving as a graduate student mentor for PSURE – the Princeton Summer Undergraduate Research Experience.

Here’s an overview of the program, from the PSURE website:

“The Graduate School offers an eight-week summer research experience for undergraduates who express a serious interest in pursuing a Ph.D. and following a career in college or university teaching and research. The purpose of the program is to motivate and prepare students to make competitive applications to research doctoral programs, with a view toward completing the Ph.D. and going on to teach and conduct original research.

Princeton is a member of The Leadership Alliance, a consortium of 32 institutions of higher learning dedicated to increasing diversity in doctoral programs and on college and university faculties. The Alliance collaborates on a number of programs, from undergraduate research, to faculty development, to national symposia, to develop underrepresented students into outstanding leaders and role models in academia, business and the public sector. The Summer Research Early Identification Program (SR-EIP) is the keystone of Princeton’s participation in the Alliance.”

Specifically, I’ll be working on the following aspects of the program:

  • Conduct weekly meetings with students to mentor and advise on the research process, writing and presenting research, and general questions and concerns of students.
  • Assist with academic support programs developed in collaboration with the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, the Writing Center, and other on-campus resources.
  • Attend and periodically facilitate lunchtime speaker series and other weekly events.
  • Collaborate with the Director of the PSURE program, Associate/Assistant Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, the Post-Doctoral Assistant, and Graduate School staff.


This year, I’m participating in the Princeton ReMatch research mentoring program. My mentee and I will work together on a research project this summer. (Stay tuned for more posts on that!)

Here’s the mission statement, from the ReMatch website:

Mission: To foster meaningful research collaborations between first and second year undergraduate students and graduate students from across all departments; support a diverse and inclusive research community at Princeton and beyond; provide undergraduates with early hands-on opportunities for mentored research to ignite and sustain their interest in research and prepare them for junior and senior independent work; train and support graduate students in becoming effective mentors and educators; strengthen Princeton’s research community.

ReMatch is a collaborative initiative between the Office of the Dean of the College (ODOC) and the Office of the Dean of the Graduate School (ODGS).”

discussion activities

Most teaching at the graduate level happens within small groups. How can you spark a discussion? How can you keep students engaged? In a previous post, I talked about fill-in-the-blank style activities to review key concepts (e.g., classical conditioning). In this post, I’ll focus on other discussion activities.

It’s very important to note that most of these ideas aren’t my own! They come from others in the UW-Madison undergraduate teaching fellows program. One of the projects within this program involved “small learning communities” (i.e., discussion sections based in dorms) for first-year students. The examples below are from brainstorm sessions with faculty and teaching fellows, and I’ve included some notes about my own experiences in using these activities.

Four Corners: This is excellent for ideas that could be approached in different ways based on personal experiences, philosophies, likes, etc. Post possibilities on sheets of paper on sides/corners of the room. Ask students to go to the side/corner that best represents them, and discuss with others why they traveled to that corner. Following small group discussions, have a member of each group summarize the group’s perspective in a large group discussion. This activity allows students to learn more about diverse perspectives on a given topic. (In my experience, this activity works well for controversial topics that students may be reluctant to discuss. If you pose a question and hear nothing but crickets, I recommend trying this.)

Think – Pair – Share: This strategy is used to introduce a new concept or to draw out ideas from a previous assignment or experience. Students spend 2-3 minutes individually answering a question. Then, students discuss their responses with a partner. Finally, students share their collective responses with the whole group. (In my experience, I’ve found this activity is great for students who need some time to think before sharing with the rest of the class.)

Metaphors: Divide students in pairs or small groups and ask them to develop a metaphor for a given concept. Metaphors may be written verbally, or expressed with a drawing, or both. Have groups share their metaphors with the larger group, using the collective metaphors to generate a broader discussion of the topic.

Gallery: After completing a poster-style activity (e.g., Metaphors, above), have each group put their response on the wall. Divide students into mixed groups in which one member from each of the previous groups is represented. Groups view each piece in the “gallery” for a few minutes, and students to write down their responses to each piece. Students can ask the original author to clarify the metaphor, if needed. At the conclusion, invite the class to discuss commonalities and differences within the gallery pieces.

Other creative activities: Try getting groups to respond to questions through role plays, creative drama, story telling, etc. Question prompts for these activities should try to draw out critical learning objectives. (In my experience, students do enjoy most creative activities, but it’s sometimes hard to keep them focused on why their doing it. I tend to use these towards the end of the class, reserving ~5 minutes for discussion.)

Jigsaw Reading: Break down a short reading into 3-5 parts. Have each group read and discuss one part. Groups then share a summary of their reading with the whole class. You can also ask each group to pose additional questions to the large group to deepen discussion. (In my experience, this activity is excellent for helping students with reading. When my psych students were reading an Oliver Sacks novel, I assigned a few students to be “experts” on each chapter and give summaries to start the discussion. Students all still read each chapter independently, but these “expert” summaries helped them remember lots of material.)

Whip Around: Pose a question. Ask each student to respond as quickly as they can to the question until all students have answered. Students should be given the right to “pass” if they aren’t ready, but the goal is to have everyone participate. Alternately, create a whip around in which each person must build upon the previous person’s idea as they answer. Afterwards, discuss similarities and differences in students’ responses. (In my experience, this activity works well if you want to start with a very broad topic and break into sub-topics for discussion. For example, “Tell me something you know about neurons” can get the ball rolling. It can also be a useful activity for controversial issues. For example, “Tell me the first words that come to mind when you hear: race/ethnicity/gender/etc” can be a way to start discussing social justice issues.)

Q&A: Ask students to submit 3-5 questions they have about the past week’s material. Review each question with the whole class, and ask students to answer the questions posed by their peers. (In my experience, there are a few important things to note here. (1) Some students will slack on this with questions like, “What is [insert vocabulary term]?” but they’ll be outnumbered by genuine questions. (2) This gives some privacy to asking questions, as students don’t know who posed which questions, and it can encourage shy students to participate more. (3) I’ve also tried assigning questions to specific students for answers, but that takes some extra planning. (4) This can be a great final exam review strategy: compile questions and answers into a PowerPoint, and send the slides to students. It’s their work, you just typed it.)