Mentoring versus Advising

Mentoring vs. Advising – It’s Not Only Good for Students

by Michelle Rasmussen

I think we all know that one of the major advantages to obtaining an education at a school like LVC is the small student-faculty ratio. It makes it possible for all of us to get to know each student as a person rather than just a number, as they are often considered at larger institutions. This clearly impacts how we teach in the classroom, but more importantly, it gives us the opportunity to mentor our students instead of just advising. Mentoring is so much more than just helping a student choose what classes to take and when to take them. Because we can take the time to know each student individually, we can provide more effective guidance to maximize opportunities during their time at LVC and give them personalized advice when it comes to making the critical decisions related to their career goals.

Articles about undergraduate mentoring are typically framed to highlight the benefits or advantages for the student being mentored. However, the part that is often left out is that the process can and should be beneficial for the person doing the mentoring as well. Speaking from the point of view of the sciences (but realizing that this is relevant across all fields), effectively mentoring my students requires that I stay up-to-date with what is going on in my field. What are the requirements for graduate programs or industrial positions and how those might be changing? What is the current job market like for chemists? If a student is interested in a specific area of chemistry, what types of jobs might they be able to obtain and how much education are the required to have? Even more specifically, what areas of research are rapidly expanding and which are dwindling? These are just a few in a much longer list of topics that I like to discuss with my advisees throughout their time at LVC.

My goal is to set aside some time each week or so to read through recent literature and job postings. Sometimes it is difficult to find the time to do this but what has surprised me is that, while my purpose for doing this is to be an effective mentor, I stand to gain a lot from this process. Staying current with chemical research directly contributes to my ability to design new research projects, write funding proposals, and develop collaborations with other researchers in my field. It can also help me to improve or change the direction of current projects. The other major impact of this process is to show the students that I’m invested in them and their future. They appreciate that I’m willing to spend the extra time on them which, in turn, makes them more likely to come to me for guidance or advice.