Fall 2014 Cohort

Mentoring

We put a strong emphasis on mentorship as part of graduate education at UMass Amherst. When you first enter the program, you are assigned an academic advisor who will help guide you through the initial stages of navigating graduate school—choosing classes, understanding academic culture, learning about funding and other professional opportunities, brainstorming research ideas, etc. An effort will be made to match your research interests with those of your advisor, though this is not always possible. You are free to change academic advisors as your interests evolve.

To help you keep track of your progress and plan future semesters, you will fill out the Survey of Graduate Student Progress, an online form that you will update and share each semester with your academic advisor and with the department’s Graduate Office. The survey gives you a chance to record not only courses taken or exam papers completed, but other accomplishments, such as fellowships, publications, related jobs, awards, workshops attended, service to the discipline, or the application of your research to addressing social problems. It also provides an opportunity to record questions and concerns that you’d like to discuss with your advisor.

Faculty mentoring. Students are urged to establish close working relationships with faculty to facilitate their individual research and completion of milestones in the program. Starting early in your graduate school career, we encourage you to make appointments with faculty in the department who share your interests to learn about their work and discuss your ideas. You will also get to know faculty through taking their classes. Over time, you will choose one or more mentors—those who advise you on your research for comprehensive exam papers and/or the dissertation, and support you in your professional development. Some students prefer to have their primary intellectual mentor also serve as their academic advisor; others prefer to keep the two roles separate.

Collective mentoring. Though mentorship is conventionally thought of as an individual relationship between a faculty member and a student, we also define it as a collective practice, which involves peers as well as professors. It takes place not only one-on-one during office hours, but also in discussions after student colloquium presentations, at job market practice talks, graduate student dissertation groups, and in informal departmental social events. Mentorship also occurs in the following venues:

  • First-year students attend a year-long Proseminar designed to introduce you to graduate school, the department, the university, and the discipline. Speakers include current and former graduate students, sociology faculty, and representatives of programs around the university.
  • In some years, graduate students further along in the program have organized an “Advanced Proseminar” to talk about issues that come up at a later stage.
  • We offer a 2-credit Job Market Preparation class every other year, to help students prepare for the job application process.
  • Mentorship around teaching is also a priority for our department.

Peer mentoring. Incoming graduate students are paired up with current students to provide a peer mentoring relationship. This gives first-year graduate students a resource for questions about life at UMass Amherst and the Amherst area, and negotiating the program. It also helps incoming graduate students get plugged into the social and intellectual life of the department. The peer mentor relationship takes on a variety of forms depending on the individuals involved but can mean email exchanges and discussions over coffee, and in at least one instance, the peer mentoring program has facilitated a pair becoming roommates. How often and with what frequency a first year student interacts with an experienced graduate student depends entirely on the individuals.