The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Fall 2014 Cohort


We put a strong emphasis on mentorship and professional development as part of graduate education at UMass Amherst. When students first enter the program, they are assigned an academic advisor who will help guide them 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 students’ research interests with those of an advisor, though this is not always possible. Students are free to change academic advisors as interests evolve.

The online folder for each student includes a summary of course requirements and milestones that have been met. This folder is shared with the student, student’s advisor, Graduate Programs Manager, and Graduate Program Director.  Students update and upload their CV every semester. Every Spring, they also upload the Annual Graduate Review form that summarizes progress over the past year, as well as goals for the following year. Both the student’s advisor and the GPD provide comments based on the faculty review of students’ progress and goals.

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 their graduate school careers, we encourage students to make appointments with faculty with shared interests in the department to learn about their work and discuss ideas. Taking courses with faculty also allow students to get to know faculty. By the end of the second year, students have usually chosen one or more mentors—to advise them on research and support them in their professional development. Most students prefer to make their primary intellectual mentor 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 brownbag discussions of research, discussions after colloquium presentations, at job market practice talks, through writing groups, and in informal departmental social events.

Professional Development also occurs in the following venues:

  • First-year students attend a year-long Proseminar designed to introduce them to graduate school, the department, the university, and the discipline. Speakers include current graduate students, sociology faculty, and representatives of programs around the university.
  • Some years, senior graduate students organize an “Advanced Proseminar” to talk about issues that come up at a later stage.
  • We offer a 2-credit Negotiating and Academic Job Market class every other year, to help students prepare for the job application process.
  • There are many career preparation workshops provided through the Office of Professional Development, as well as workshops aimed at personal development.
  • 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.

Mentoring Awards. Every year, the graduate students award a faculty member with the “Best Mentor Award.” In recent years, the following faculty members have been recognized in this way:

Millie Thayer (2015, 2016)
Jon Wynn (2014)
Joya Misra (2010, 2014)
Anna Branch (2012, 2014)
Donald Tomaskovic-Devey (2013)
Robert Zussman (2011)

In addition, Naomi Gerstel won the UMass 2017 Distinguished Graduate Mentor Award, a competitive award that recognizes her stature as one of the very best mentors on campus.