Strengthening Mentorship Skills

Mentors come to the mentoring relationship with myriad mentoring skills and abilities, and no two mentors will approach the relationship in the same way. However, there are some attributes of a mentoring relationship that consistently produce positive benefits for the student mentees. Some of these include planning, clear expectations and benchmarking, relationship building, appropriate training in methodology and professionalism, and developing a students’ self-sufficiency (e.g., Gonzalez, 2006; Mabrouk, 2009; Shanahan et al., 2015; Watkins, 2005).

Below are some resources and articles to support you becoming an effective mentor.

The Council of Undergraduate Research (CUR) is the preeminent organization centered around strengthening undergraduate research and creativity activity. Penn State faculty, staff, and students are eligible to take advantage of the University’s enhanced institutional membership and register for an individual membership at no cost. Membership benefits include access to CUR Quarterly, CUR’s online archive of Webinar Recordings and materials, and more.

CUR suggests the following mentoring strategies to foster strong relationships while maintaining clear expectations for students. While these may seem straightforward for experienced researchers, they may be less clear for a student new to the experience.

  • Make yourself available
  • Foster community
  • Be attentive
  • Be understanding
  • Encourage participation in the broader research community

Incorporating these strategies into your work with your undergraduate researchers will assist with mentee development and help increase your students’ confidence in themselves. This will result in research success for the student and benefit your scholarship.

To help you establish clear expectations with undergraduates with whom you are working, we have developed an undergraduate research contract. Consider completing this document at the beginning of an undergraduate research experience to help ensure that both you and your student get what is wanted out of the experience. If you would like to adapt the contract to fit your needs, please contact Caitlin Ting, URFM Director, at for a text version of the contract.

Video on High Quality Mentoring

This video offers thoughtful reflection on undergraduate research mentorship from scholars at Elon University. The video was produced by the Center for Engaged Learning.

If you are interested in learning how to incorporate undergraduates into their research or reflecting on, and honing, mentorship skills, please contact Lara LaDage ( to request an event tailored to your needs.

Barnett, J. E. (2008). Mentoring, boundaries, and multiple relationships: Opportunities and challenges. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 16(1), 3-16. doi:10.1080/13611260701800900

Hammack, J., Lewis, R., McMullen, R., Powell, C., Richards, R., Sams, D. E., & Sims, J. (2017). Mentoring undergraduate research handbook. (2nd ed.) Mentored Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavors (MURACE). 2. 

Handelsman, J., Pfund, C., Lauffer, S. M., & Pribbenow, C. M. (2005). Entering mentoring: A seminar to train a new generation of scientists. (2005). Itchy Cat Press.

Shanahan, J. O., Ackley-Holbrook, E., Hall, E., Stewart, K., & Walkington, H. (2015). Ten salient practices of undergraduate research mentors: a review of the literature. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 23(5), 359-376. doi:10.1080/13611267.2015.1126162

Whiteside, U., Pantelone, D. W., Hunter-Reel, D., Eland, J., Kleiber, B., & Larimer M. (2007). Initial suggestions for supervising and mentoring undergraduate research assistants at large research universities. International Journal of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education, 19(3), 325 – 330.