Communication Studies Doctoral Student Nicole Laster

Nicole Laster As a 4th year PhD student, I have worked with eight undergraduate students. Each student and each encounter was different. By sharing a bit of my experience, I hope to provide a bit of insight that might help create a great partnership.

Graduate school is a significant commitment. The IE program offers students an excellent glance at graduate school prior to making this commitment. Because of its design, the insight gained from the IE program is quite different from the traditional classroom experience. As a mentor, my goal is to create a realistic understanding of graduate school for interested undergraduates. As a result, I structure the experience around three core projects. Within each of the projects, there is a great deal of flexibility in tailoring each one in a way meets the student's interests and also achieves a general set of objectives. As a graduate student, you are incredibly busy. But as an undergraduate, you often seek the comfort of guidance and structure. With these elements in mind, I try to create and experience that met the needs of both being busy (for myself) and needing leadership (for the student). For me, the key is "flexible structure." A structure can be built into your contract, and might include having individually designed core projects, clear deliverables, and standard meeting times. In the end, if you have a student that doesn't meet the requirements of the contract, you can return to the contract and defend your final grade. The key: they should be provided a realistic preview of graduate school in order to determine if they are prepared to attend. As their mentor, you help them make this decision.

As a potential mentor, you may ask "what's in it for you?" Having directed eight undergraduates, I know there are a number of advantages for the mentor/graduate student as well. For one, you get a unique one-on-one teaching experience. You may find that you enjoy this more than teaching a university course. Secondly, you have built-in assistance with your own research/teaching from someone who has a desire to conduct graduate work. And thirdly, you are contributing to your personal profile and service portfolio in an interesting and fun way.

After having worked with eight interns, I offer future mentors the following takeaways: (1) self-select your partner, one that is built on a previous successful classroom relationship; (2) be flexible and tailor the projects to student interest, but maintain a sense of control about your own goals and needs; and (3) realize that you can learn and benefit from this process just as much as the undergraduate.

UPDATE: "In my first few years as an assistant professor, I advised graduate student research (in most cases, MA theses). The lessons I learned about "coaching" academic work as an IE mentor gave me an experienced framework to begin each time with each new student. I created very structured experiences with my IE students at UT and was fortunate to work with over a half dozen students in 3 years. Now, as a lead Social Scientist for the Army, I work with young social scientists (from many different disciplines). It is incredibly challenging trying to give them wings. However, the framework I used with IE reminds me that process works-and Intellectual Entrepreneurship is a gift that people give themselves-BUT made easier, and embraced more when the people who talk about and support it actually understand it. Coaching others academically is rewarding, yet continually challenging. IE gave me a base that no other experience in graduate school does. There was nothing like it. Bravo!"