Identifying a Mentor

Finding the right mentor is a critical step in developing a positive scholarly experience. Historically, the term mentor can be traced to its origins in Homer's The Odyssey, in which he referred to an advisor. The long-standing and multifaceted role of a mentor is to guide and support you through your work, help you to maintain your focus, provide resources, advise you about dissemination opportunities, and also to offer valuable career suggestions. Guidance in finding a good fit with a mentor is always useful in cultivating this important relationship; hence, here are some tips from the S&D team.


Start by creating a list of faculty members with whom you might like to work; this list might be based on alignment of overall interests or your attraction to past or current projects. Students most commonly identify their S&D mentors through guidance from the Scholarly Opportunities Guide (where faculty members express interest in student mentorship), faculty websites, course directors, track leaders, and the S&D Team.  Further, former mentors, students, and course directors may sometimes provide referrals to mentors. Students can peruse faculty websites and also use PubMed to find publications of interest.


If a faculty member shares your broad interests, you might consider contacting her/him, always using professional standards for communication. Students can obtain e-mail addresses and other faculty contact information through the University of Chicago Online Directory.  Please anticipate at least 2 weeks until the first meeting occurs, being mindful of busy faculty schedules.


When meeting with a potential mentor, the student's aim is to determine whether the faculty member will be a good fit.  The acronym CAPE can help guide you in this process - is the mentor Capable? Available? Is her/his Project of interest to you? Is s/he Easy to get along with?  The following is a list of questions to use during your first meeting to help you to make this assessment.

About the Mentor
  • What is your background? How did you become interested in this area?
  • How long have you been at the University of Chicago? Do you foresee any changes in your career?
  • What is your schedule like? (e.g., Are you in the office/lab every day? How often do you travel?)
  • How many students do you currently mentor?
  • How many students have you mentored in the past?
  • What qualities do you look for in a student mentee?
About the Research
  • (If the project is not clear from the outset): The Department website lists your current research projects as X, Y, and Z; is this your most current work? If not, what are you working on now?
  • Do you think that my research interests in areas A, B, and C are a good fit with your current project(s)?
  • Are there other staff or personnel with whom I may be regularly interfacing?
  • Are there specific skills that I should refine prior to beginning work on your project?

Initial Meeting

Meeting with your mentor soon after you have established the relationship will establish momentum and ensure shared goals. This meeting is integral to deciding specifically on what you will be working, any training or prerequisite skills needed, and the timeline over which these activities are expected to occur.