About These Resources
Strong, supportive mentorship is essential to graduate student success, and graduate programs have a vital role to play. Programs can organize and advocate for new approaches to advising and mentoring that bring together faculty and students. Program chairs, coordinators, and faculty advisors often are alert to patterns across a cohort and can act quickly to address roadblocks or confusion. Working at the program level also offers the opportunity to mitigate inconsistencies and inequities in advising.
Graduate programs benefit from learning about the experiences of their colleagues across campus. Below are resources created by UC Davis graduate programs to address common graduate advising and mentoring needs. You can use these examples and accompanying reports as starting points in your own graduate programs. The reports outline the created resources and summarize student feedback. Elizabeth Sturdy, Director of Mentoring and Academic Success Initiatives, is available to consult on designing workshops, tools, and other resources in any graduate programs, or to answer questions about the examples presented here.
A positive mentoring relationship provides the greatest indicator of graduate student success. Graduate programs can foster cultures that promote, enrich, and reward positive mentoring.
- Finding a Mentor Guides: prepare and empower graduate students to find a mentor who will support their individual goals. Download the Report (PDF).
- Mentorship Conflict Protocols: outline clearly for graduate students and faculty how to recognize and address mentorship conflicts. Download the Report (PDF).
- Mentor Surveys: survey graduate students on the quality of the mentorship within the graduate program. Download the Report (PDF).
- Mentor Awards: recognize faculty providing excellence in advising or mentoring
Graduate Program Advisors
When faculty advisors take a role in a graduate student’s academic development, it creates a culture of support and a built-in mentorship network for students. Students often rely on their major professor to be their main academic resource, but graduate programs can provide a supportive role as well. Rather than a mentoring model of a “comprehensive ‘guru’ mentor” who advises a graduate student on every aspect of their academic, personal, or professional development, graduate programs should consider offering more comprehensive mentoring from multiple faculty advisors. At UC Davis, Faculty Graduate Program Advisors can be a crucial hub for networked advising.
- Assigned Advisors: pair every first-year student with an assigned faculty advisor (not the major professor) to consult with students on program requirements, academic milestones, and mentorship needs. Pairs should meet at least once a quarter. Download the Report (PDF).
Navigating Graduate School
Graduate school can often have a “hidden curriculum” - a set of expectations never clearly outlined by the graduate program or faculty mentor that graduate students must learn how to navigate by word of mouth or through trial and error. Graduate programs can provide resources and seminars that outline important expectations and norms.
- First-Year Seminars: extend a one-time orientation event by orienting graduate students during a graduate seminar for an entire quarter. Download the Report (PDF).
- GradMaps: outline academic, professional development, research, skill building, and community building activities for each phase of the graduate degree
Qualifying Exam Preparation
The qualifying examination often represents a major stressor for graduate students and many students have reported inconsistencies in the expectations for the exam. The faculty within the graduate program should have a shared understanding of the purpose of the exam, expectations, and scope. When programs document these expectations and share them widely with both faculty and staff, graduate students can obtain more successful outcomes.
- QE Guidelines/Information Sessions: provide written guidance and information sessions to help prepare graduate students for the qualifying exam. Download the Report (PDF).
- QE Course: a seminar course that prepares graduate students for the exam and practice oral exam formats.
Writing resources and interventions can help students during a challenging phase of graduate degrees. Feedback on writing should be offered early, regularly, and in the context of the student's stage in the program. Thesis and dissertation committees can provide critical interventions by shaping a student’s written work, enhancing the quality of feedback, and increasing transparency. Thesis and dissertation committees should play an early role in helping the student draft their written work so graduate students can better grow and improve as writers if they can receive and incorporate feedback early.
- Writing Retreats: faculty lead a writing event/retreat to share with graduate students writing strategies, drafting/outlining techniques, and to provide support on how to create a more polished written work. Download the Report (PDF).
- Thesis/Dissertation Guidelines: establish the expectations and role of the thesis/dissertation committee
- Writing Groups: meet regularly to discuss writing in graduate school. Download the Report (PDF).
Graduate students face financial stress throughout their graduate degree experience. Nationally, survey data shows graduate students face financial precarity and stress. Graduate programs can provide more transparency on sources of funding and distribute information broadly to ensure equity.
- Funding Contracts: outlines a funding plan for graduate student
- External Grants Workshop/Course: guides graduate students on applying to grants related to the area of study. Download the Report (PDF).
- External Grants Workshop (Physics)
A 2018 study by Nature recently called mental health trends amongst graduate students“ evidence of a mental health crisis in graduate education” (Evans et al., 2018). According to the study, more than a third of doctoral students have experienced anxiety or depression and 39%reported moderate to severe depression symptoms. The study called for more interventions for graduate students and mental health education.
- Work-life Balance Events: promote well-being of graduate students outside of coursework and research. Download the Report (PDF).
- Well-Being Course: a course that studies the science of mental health and provides self-care tools (this best practice inspired the Faculty Academy of Graduate Student Well-Being). Download the Report (PDF).
Graduate students rank uncertainty with career prospects as one of their top concerns. Many report difficulties in knowing what career opportunities exist for them. As we see more and more graduates going into non-academic careers, graduate students require more guidance and preparation for a variety of career paths during their degree programs.
- Alumni Career Talks: invites alumni with diverse careers to a career event to share their professional development journey and how their graduate degree prepared them for their particular career. Graduate Studies can provide data on alumni and career placements. Download the Report (PDF).