Mentor-Student Relationship FAQ
NPS 395 Real Social Change
I began teaching with a mentorship-based model in the Fall of 2006 at NC State as part of a “then” novel method for Senior Design in Biomedical Engineering emphasizing clinical immersion. Over a 12-year time span of teaching that class, there was a distinct difference between successful and unsuccessful relationships between students and mentors.
The unsuccessful types looked like contractual arrangements. Students “needed” a mentor to complete their projects and “attain” a problem to solve. Or, it may have been the mentor that wanted the students to work on a problem they “needed” help solving.
My line was this: It’s not about a doctor looking for students to help them solve their problem. It’s not about students looking for a doctor to provide them a problem to be solved. It is about a doctor and students coming together as a team to discover an unmet need they are mutually interested in exploring.
The mentor-student relationship is about bringing together a powerful combination. The wisdom of the mentor that only a lifetime of experience affords, but sometimes burdened with the way things are. The youthful energy of students with a genuine belief of achieving a brighter future, but sometimes lacking experience to avoid critical pitfalls. Together, their concrete and fluid intelligence can create real change. The proof is in the results. Teams of students with a mentor planting the seed for a medical device that a decade later is in hospitals saving lives during a pandemic no one could have predicted when coming together a decade earlier.
With that as an introduction, here are some frequently asked questions of the mentors and students about their relationship:
How many students are on a team?
The ideal number of students is no less than 3 and no more than 5 if feasible given the constraints of class size and available mentors.
How often do mentors and students meet?
The onus is on the students to reach out and drive interaction at the convenience of the mentor AND for the mentor to be available for the students. How often is defined by the team.
Through the years I’ve had students that failed to connect with mentors and I’ve had mentors that have failed to be available to students. In this case, the total interaction was zero.
In other cases, the students and mentor became so close, that they would have weekly dinners together hosted at the mentor’s home. In other cases, doctors where only available during Grand Rounds at 5am at Duke University Medical Center in Durham. NC State students drove there every week leaving Raleigh at 4:30am to participate.
Given those extremes, a good rule of thumb is to have a weekly check-in that may be in some combination of in-person and/or via video conference (such as Zoom or Google). Ideally the students are immersed in some activity. Attending a weekly Grand Rounds is one example. Attending a weekly strategy meeting. Serving as volunteers for a weekly activity. Or simply having a weekly conversation.
Set a 20-mile march (aka regular cadence) and stick with it. As little as one hour per week over Zoom between the mentor and students can turn into a life changing relationship.
How long does the relationship last?
This year (as of today) the semester begins on August 10th and ends on November 25th. If student teams are formed in the first week of classes, I would expect they be reaching out to mentors no later than the week of August 17th (and hopefully sooner). Final presentations of work will be sometime during the last 2 weeks of November (TBD).
Ideally a bond will be formed that the end of a semester will mark the beginning of a relationship. Whether personal or professional the collective network of the class can last a lifetime.
How much work is expected of the mentor?
Being available on the agreed upon cadence is the primary responsibility of the mentor. No other work outside of that cadence is expected. I’ve seen mentors start companies based on the experience with the students.
How much work is expected of the students?
A typical college rule of thumb is that every credit is equivalent to about an hour in class and 2-3 times that out of class. This is why 12 credits is considered full time. About 12 hours in class and an additional 24-36 hours out of class rounds out to a full-time job. For a 300 level, 3-credit class, students are expected to work 6-9 hours per week outside of the class to be successful.
Outside of class activities will include reading, preparing presentations, and meeting with mentors, and doing the deep dive into whatever research is relevant to the project.
What is the project?
The project is to identify an unmet need (aka job to be done, problem to be solved, goal to be achieved) that the team of students with mentor find mutually motivated to explore. The final deliverable is an in-depth exploration and description of that unmet need.
There is no way to predict what this will be. The tools of design thinking, innovation processes, and the entrepreneurial mindset will be taught and put into action to assist the students throughout the journey for Real Social Change.
Andrew J. DiMeo, Sr.
Originally Published on 09 July 2020