Mentoring Remotely During Disruption

Mentoring Remotely During Disruption

COVID-19 has created an environment where faculty need to mentor students remotely, under disruptive circumstances. Below are some suggestions on how to approach this:

  • Acknowledge the uncertain times and psychological distress students (and their faculty advisors and mentors) are experiencing. Reassure students that you will be as available, supportive, understanding, and flexible as possible. Consider what this means for you personally. Depending on individual circumstances, some faculty will be in the position to provide more support than others. Allow yourself to be available, within boundaries, to meet your and their needs.
  • Provide reassurance and, when possible, pertinent information you receive. Do this regularly.
  • Be responsive to students’ concerns about health, feelings of isolation, housing, family and loved ones both local and afar, travel, food access and insecurity, etc. The list of concerns can be long for many of our students, and many offices across campus are working to help students address and manage these concerns.
  • Review the goals and expectations you established with your students under normal conditions (e.g. face-to-face interactions, regular check-ins, group meetings, etc.). Identify which of these goals and expectations are important to maintain and which may need to be reprioritized and redefined. Consider how new constraints (available time, remote work, new stressors) may factor into how mutually understood expectations can be met, how individual and shared goals can be achieved, and within what time frame. Many students whose work depends heavily on being in the field, lab, or other external environments are concerned about how this time working remotely will impact their continued progress. Students closer to degree completion are also concerned about a rapidly changing job market both within and beyond academia. Do what you can to ease their concerns, but also work with them on realistic action plans including pointing them toward resources and support offered by the Graduate School such as Future Faculty and Academic Careers and Careers Beyond Academia.
  • Communicate clear expectations for your students (as clear as you can under rapidly changing circumstances).
    • How do you plan to communicate with students, individually and in groups? (Email? Zoom? Slack? Phone? Facetime? Skype?)
    • How often can students expect to hear from you? Schedule regular check-in times for one-on-one meetings.
    • How often do you want to hear from your students for check-ins and progress updates?
    • Maintain regular, virtual lab meetings, as well as social times such as virtual coffee hours and virtual lunches.
    • What do you want students to do regarding research and writing? Any modifications? What degree of flexibility?
    • On what schedule do you expect progress to be made? Again, with what modifications and flexibility? Consider asking for written progress reports. Keep track of progress with structure, e.g. pre-meeting summary of key tasks; pre-meeting report on accomplishments, obstacles, questions for discussion.
  • Continue to communicate as students ask questions. Regular communication is reassuring. You don’t need to know all the answers, but be prepared to help connect them with various resources as specific needs and concerns become apparent. Consider having members of a lab or cohort form sub-groups with two to three people to check in on each other every other day. Checking in should be about research, but also about how they doing personally.
  • It’s OK to tell students that you and other faculty are also trying to figure out how to continue your teaching, research, writing, and publishing under these challenging circumstances. Possible language: “We’ll figure this out together. Send me questions whenever you have them, especially if I have missed something important. If I don’t know the answer, the Graduate School, the college, and others will help us figure out missed and next steps.”
  • Help students stay connected with peer writing groups, professional networks, journal clubs, seminar series, etc.
  • Support students’ well-being: Remind them to get outside, where possible, include exercise in their schedules, etc. Encourage students who feel overwhelmed to step away from social media and the news.
  • Bear in mind that everyone’s home environments look different – students and postdocs may have different levels of access to technology and internet connections, and caregivers may be juggling those responsibilities in real-time with their professional work.

These are unprecedented times that are impacting everyone one in significant ways. Provide yourself and your students with some grace. Demonstrating empathy and humanity will go a long way in providing students with reassurance that they are not in this alone!

The university, colleges and schools, and the Graduate School are all posting regular updates. You can access the most up to date information on Cornell’s Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources and Updates page. Encourage and expect your students to check this site regularly (so you don’t have to send more emails than necessary), as faculty have limited bandwidth too!

Compiled by the Graduate School Offices of Academic & Student Affairs and Inclusion and Student Engagement, the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity, and Future Faculty and Academic Careers.