Mentorship

This page reflects the experience of colleagues and friends in the form of advice for mentors of all kinds in Mathematics and in various stages of their careers. It should be taken with a grain of salt, as it has no basis more reliable than the experience of those who have shared their stories with me. My hope is that this list would provide us with some kind of moral compass, to help us learn from the successes and blunders of others and our own. This list is by no means definitive, and will be updated as more ideas crystalize, and stories are shared.

  • Make sure to avoid superseding your students and mentees, and that they do not supersede each other.
  • Try to meet regularly with your students, and offer your mentees the same opportunity.
  • Do not speak ill of others to your students and mentees, especially about other students, mentees and colleagues.
  • Allow your students some scientific freedom, but try to guide them if they wander too much.
  • Students and mentees should not work for you, write papers for you, or do you favors without agreed-upon reciprocity. They are often not in a position to say no, and are constantly worried about your opinion of them.
  • Be clear early on to your student about what you expect from them, and what they can expect from you.
  • Provide opportunities to your students and mentees, and guide them on how to obtain it themselves.
  • Do not compete with students or mentees, or encourage competition between them. Some forms of competition may be healthy, but cooperation is usually a lot healthier.
  • Encourage students and mentees to become independent, produce a paper or two on their own, and/or work with others in the same career stage.
  • Letters of recommendation are critical for a mentee’s career, so make sure to write them on time. If you agreed to write a letter, and you cannot write a good and useful letter, you should let the mentee know as early as possible that you cannot write a letter.
  • Do not cosign students or mentees (or anyone else for that matter) on papers that were written, or essentially thought-out, without them. It robs them of their impetus for growth, and makes them feel like imposters.
  • Be mindful of a mentee’s deadlines for job applications when writing a paper together.
  • Encourage your students and mentees to attend conferences and present their works. In such events, try to facilitate their interactions with experts in the field.
  • Try to run a seminar for students to learn and become familiarized with research on relevant problems in your area.
  • If you have already decided to take on a student or mentee, try to ensure they do not feel unworthy of your mentorship.
  • Let your students and mentees know when they do something wrong. If this happens with another’s student or mentee, let their mentors know before taking it up with the mentee.
  • Do not take up formal mentorship out of pity, guilt, pressure or favor, especially if you deem the student not competent enough. On the other hand, do not dissuade students from pursuing Mathematics, since they may exceed your expectations of them.
  • Be friendly with students, but try to keep some well-defined distance from them. Becoming too friendly with students may compromise your mentorship of them, and hurt their careers in the long run.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any suggestions, comments or additions for this list.