Peer mentoring and advising resources

In my role as the Graduate Writing Specialist, I occasionally provide support and guidance to the various student workers and volunteers who help out the Graduate Center, including graduate assistants (GAs), interns, and work-study students. Mainly, I share resources that I’ve found helpful.

So, to streamline that process, I’ve collected on this page several of my most-frequently-accessed resources related to peer mentoring, student support, and graduate advising. Because these resources cover a wide range of loosely-related topics, they are not necessarily listed in order of importance.

As always, if you find an error on the page or have a suggestion of something for me to add, please email me: Omar(dot)Hussein(at)csulb(dot)edu.

Helpful Websites

Below are some helpful sites that might be useful for student assistants and GAs.

Resources for Advising Prospective CSULB Grad Students

Looking up Grad Advisors

Prospective students often ask highly specific questions about admissions to CSULB graduate programs (e.g., “I took Statistics 170 at my old college–will that fulfill the stats requirement for the CSULB MAPR program?”) that you might not know the answer to. In these cases, it’s often best to direct the student to the program’s graduate advisor. Graduate advisors are university faculty who spend some of their time answering questions and providing guidance to prospective applicants to their department. Graduate advisors can be looked up on this webpage (they are listed alphabetically by the name of the program).

Admissions Essays: Statements of Purpose, Personal Statements, and others

My Getting into grad school page has links to a page on Admissions essays and an FAQ on admissions essays, both of which offer an assortment of helpful resources (including recordings of my workshop). But if you’re in a hurry, the best and most relevant materials are as follows:

1. Experiences and sob stories:

2. Writing to your audience-Admissions essays:

3. How to “sound smart”:

4. Tips for writing grad school application essays

CVs and Résumés

Again, I have a whole page on this topic. However, some of the most useful resources are listed below.

Job Search Résumés

These materials are most useful for job searches, but some of the tips and ideas might also be relevant for graduate admissions CVs/résumés, especially those for professional schools.

Grad School CV/Résumé

Resources for Advising Current CSULB Students

Academic Resources

My writing and academic resources page is a more comprehensive overview of resources. But there are a handful of helpful items that I find myself sharing with students over and over again, so I’m collecting them below:

Miriam Sweeney: How to read for graduate school

Anne Lamott: Shitty First Drafts

The Thesis Whisperer (Dr. Inger Mewburn): How to write a Research Proposal

Useful Links and transitions for academic writing

Study Skills

There are some great resources on my 3 things all students should know about page. Some of the highlights are:

Procrastination & Time Management

First, there are two excellent packets from Simon Fraser University:

Procrastination:

Time Management:

Second, David Burns has some great materials on time management and procrastination, such as:

Ask David — “I don’t feel like doing it!” Quick Cure for Procrastinators.

Five Simple Ways to Boost Your Happiness–#2: Do Something You’ve Been Putting Off

The Perfectionist’s Script for Self-Defeat (about perfectionism, which is closely related to procrastination).

General Advising and Mentoring

Effective Communication

Dr. David Burns, one of the pioneers of cognitive behavioral therapy, has some wonderful resources on interpersonal communication, summed up by what he calls “The 5 Secrets of Effective Communication.” As Dr. Burns describes on his website, “the Five Secrets of Effective Communication can be remembered using the acronym, EAR”:

E = Empathy

The Disarming Technique: You find truth in what the other person is saying, even if it seems illogical, self-serving, distorted, or just plain “wrong.”

Thought and Feeling Empathy: You summarize what the other person just said (Thought Empathy) and acknowledge how he or she is probably feeling, given what he or she just said (Feeling Empathy)

Inquiry: You as gentle, probing questions to learn more about what the other person is thinking and feeling.

A = Assertiveness

“I Feel” Statements: You express your own feelings and ideas openly according to the formula, “I’m feeling X, Y, and Z right now,” where are X, Y and Z refer to any of a wide variety of feeling words, such as anxious, attacked, hurt, or sad.

R = Respect

Affirmation (formerly called Stroking): You convey warmth, caring and respect, even in the heat of battle.

Here are some helpful handouts that Dr. Burns makes available on his website:

The Law of Opposites (PDF)

Feeling Words Chart + The Five Secrets (PDF)

Advanced Empathy Techniques (PDF)

And here is a copy of an EAR checklist excerpted from Burns’s book, Feeling Good Together:

Podcast

David Burns has a highly informative and entertaining podcast which can be listened to here. The following episodes have some great stuff on the 5 secrets of effective communication:

  • Episode 14: The Five Secrets of Effective Communication (Part 1)              
  • Episode 15: The Five Secrets of Effective Communication (Part 2)
  • Episode 36: Ask David — Empowering the Victim With the Five Secrets
  • Episodes 66-70: The Five Secrets one by one (in more detail)       

General Mental Health Resources

Below are some helpful resources related to mental health and wellness:

CSULB Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) homepage (at the bottom of the left-hand menu, you can find a link to their services packet [PDF], which is updated every semester)

CAPS Crisis Intervention page (lists phone numbers and other contact information for CSULB students who are experiencing a mental health crisis, such as extreme sadness or anxiety, or thoughts of self harm).

David Burns: FeelingGood.com: The homepage of Dr. David Burns, one of the pioneers of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). His site has a wealth of helpful resources, including a Depression Self-Test, a free depression e-course, a free anxiety e-course, and an entertaining and informative podcast.

Succeeding during the pandemic: Maintaining mental health (includes an overview of CBT self-help techniques that can be used to overcome negative thoughts related to academics)

Overcoming Writing Anxiety (similar to the previous page above, but with a specific focus on writer’s block/writing anxiety).

3 things all students should know about (one of the 3 things is cognitive behavioral therapy).

CBT Handouts

Below are some helpful handouts on mental health and wellness from a CBT perspective:

The 10 most common cognitive distortions:

The Triple Column Technique or Daily Mood Log (excerpt from Feeling Good by David Burns):

Common Self-Defeating Beliefs (from FeeelingGood.com by David Burns):

Checklist of Negative and Positive Distortions (from FeeelingGood.com by David Burns):

Ethical Issues

Cynthia E. Brown has an excellent article on some of the ethical issues that may arise when graduate students mentor more junior students (i.e., undergraduates and less experienced grad students). For copyright reasons, I won’t post the full article on this page, but it can be easily found online (for example it is currently available on ResearchGate here) or through the University Library’s databases. The citation is below:

Brown, C. E. Ethical issues when graduate students act as mentors. Ethics & Behavior, 26(8), 688–702. https://10.1080/10508422.2016.1155151

Although Brown (2016) focuses on the psychology fields, her insights are applicable to most disciplines.

Below, I’m posting are some highlights and key excerpts that might be especially helpful for grad student mentors (lightly edited for conciseness and ease of reading).

Excerpts from Brown (2016)

What is a mentoring relationship?

“A basic definition suggests that a mentor is ‘a trusted counselor or guide’ … Just as a counselor or guide may advise someone in making decisions and overcoming obstacles, mentors in academia help students and junior colleagues achieve their training, education, and career goals. Although mentoring relationships evolve over time to accommodate the needs and challenges of the mentee, the mentor and mentee are distinguished by their experience, knowledge, and skills… Although mentoring relationships provide a number of personal and professional benefits to the mentor and mentee, the inherent personal and professional quality of the relationship can set the stage for myriad ethical complications…” (p. 689).

Benefits of peer mentoring

“Graduate students are often perceived as more accessible and approachable than faculty members, placing them in a unique position to advise and mentor junior graduate students and undergraduates” (p. 688).

“Graduate students have several qualities that help to foster mentoring relationships with undergraduates. Given the age and experience of undergraduate students, graduate students may be seen as accessible figures for answering task-related and personal questions, as well as questions about their fields and pursuing further education. Indeed, studies have shown that factors such as perceived age difference can influence an individual’s likelihood to seek information from another person and that students may feel nervous or intimidated about approaching faculty directly, therefore decreasing the likelihood that they would subsequently seek help. On the other hand, graduate students are often an approachable and available resource to undergraduates” (p. 692).

“Graduate students also often develop peer-mentoring relationships with more junior graduate students. Colvin and Ashman (2010) reported that peer mentees perceive their peer mentors in several important roles, including as a coach, advocate, trusted friend, and peer leader. Mentees also reported many benefits from their more advanced peer mentors, such as helping to develop friendships, increasing program retention, and serving as a designated support structure. Benefits of peer mentoring in academic programs include several forms of instrumental support, such as transmitting information about classes, exams, and faculty peculiarities, and help with community and campus resources” (p. 692).

Ethical considerations for graduate students acting as peer mentors

“Graduate students also possess a number of attributes (e.g., closeness in age, lack of experience) that present potential ethical complications (e.g., boundary issues, conflict of interest, role conflict) in their mentoring roles” (pp. 688-689).

Competence and help-seeking

“Graduate student mentors must be able to adequately train, educate, and guide their mentees even though they themselves are in training, while maintaining appropriate personal boundaries… [However], graduate students in these positions “don’t know what they don’t know” and are unable to evaluate the limits of their competence. Graduate students… are still in the process of gaining knowledge about the field and are therefore limited in the knowledge they can accurately transmit to potential mentees…. For example, graduate students may be asked to offer suggestions to undergraduates about getting into graduate programs, even though their experience is limited to one area…” (p. 693)

 “Graduate students, who may be trying to develop their identities as competent professionals, may be reluctant to discuss the limits of their knowledge of other fields, including professional and research-related endeavors. Graduate students should therefore be careful to [not] offer guidance beyond areas of their own competence and should instead help direct junior students to seek appropriate resources and information. The skill of researching information or seeking consultation when one’s own knowledge is inadequate is a valuable skill for a young researcher or clinician and should be modeled for junior students. Therefore, graduate student mentors should embrace opportunities to help their students seek new information because it demonstrates appropriate research and help-seeking skills” (pp. 693-694).

So, graduate students should be aware of the limits of their competence. “Graduate students should be aware of the fact that they may be asked by undergraduates to supervise projects, provide advice, and answer questions related to research… Graduate students should also consider their ability to advise and mentor junior students in both formal and informal mentoring arrangements. Graduate students should be mindful of limits of skill-based (e.g., experience) and relational competence (e.g., emotional resources) when choosing to engage in these situations. Graduate students should be aware of the professional and ethical consequences of acting beyond the boundaries of one’s skills-based competence (e.g., misinforming a student’s career choice). Similarly, graduate students should self-assess for factors that impair relational-based competence (e.g., lack of sleep, stress, self-care needs) and look to peers and faculty to provide feedback (i.e., peer-monitoring)” (p. 699).

Multiple role relationships

“Mentoring relationships extend beyond well-defined occupational or educational arrangements; therefore, personal roles between the mentor and mentee may be unclear or undefined altogether. This issue of multiple relationships may be especially problematic in peer-mentoring relationships between graduate students. For example, a senior graduate student may provide emotional and instrumental support to their mentee, but may also grade their mentee’s assignments or delegate research related tasks (e.g., coauthoring papers)…

Mentoring is a multiple relationship with some degree of power differential (either through a supervisory arrangement or through differences in experience, age, and resources). Mentorship, by definition, almost invariably involves an arrangement between an experienced mentor and a less experienced mentee. This difference in experience, compounded with advisory or occupational supervisory roles, could potentially create a steep power differential gradient between mentor and mentee. In the context of graduate student mentoring relationships, mentees (undergraduates and junior graduate students) could potentially feel pressured to engage in research or personal tasks that stem beyond their prescribed responsibilities (e.g., working extra hours, declining additional responsibilities, doing tasks unrelated to research or teaching [e.g., babysitting or housesitting])…

The power differential in graduate mentoring relationships should also be considered with regard to romantic or sexual relationships. Given that mentorship may foster feelings of trust, warmth, loyalty, and even attraction between the involved parties, there also exists an inherent power differential in the dynamic, impairing the mentor from assessing the degree to which an encounter is genuine or exploitative. Due to the risk of harm to the mentee and impaired ability of the mentor to safeguard against exploitative or harmful behavior, mentors should not pursue romantic or sexual relationships with current mentees… Just as psychologists should not engage in sexual relationships with students or supervisees, graduate students should not engage in sexual relationships with their mentees due to the evaluative nature of the relationships and the potential power differential between the mentor and mentee. Although it is true that appropriate, healthy romantic relationships may evolve between graduate students (and even graduate students and undergraduates), simultaneously romantic and mentoring relationships can be damaging for the mentor and mentee. If a senior student wishes to pursue a romantic relationship with another student who they are currently mentoring, it is within the best interest of both parties to clarify the multiple-relationship conflict by ceasing to act in a mentoring or supervisory capacity” (pp. 695-696).

Setting boundaries: “Because graduate student mentors may be more accessible or available than faculty (e.g., sharing lab space and resources with junior students), they should consider strategies on how to set boundaries on communication and assisting in projects. For example, graduate students should develop ways to tactfully decline or disengage in conversations or to convey appropriate times for answering questions (similar to having office hours) with undergraduate mentees. Graduate students should also receive guidance on setting personal boundaries, such as attending social events or giving and receiving gifts. Similarly, graduate students should also consider ways to decline from engaging in situations that exceed their own skills-based and relational competence (e.g., declining to supervise projects, offering advice on clinical issues)” (p. 698).

Social Media: “Graduate students and faculty should establish guidelines for using social media with undergraduate mentees. Because mentoring relationships are inherently personal, and because many individuals use social media for maintaining personal relationships, graduate students should consider how social media applies to their mentoring relationships… [If applicable], graduate students should discuss when social media connections are appropriate (e.g., after undergraduates have graduated or are no longer being supervised)” (pp. 698-699).

Conflict of Interest

“Graduate students are encouraged to pursue challenging clinical, research, educational, and professional development experiences in order to position themselves for personal and professional success. Graduate students may not consider how pursuing their own opportunities may affect their performance or behavior as a mentor. Time and emotional constraints (e.g., stress) may affect graduate students’ relational competence, which could influence the degree to which they are able to manage their mentoring relationships (e.g., availability to mentees, professional conduct, assessing mentees’, and one’s own competence). In addition, professional pressure to succeed may also impair graduate students’ objectivity in acknowledging credit for intellectual contributions (e.g., research ideas, publication credit), leading to exploitation of mentees (e.g., pressure to help with data entry for a dissertation).

Conflict of interests may also affect graduate students’ ability to evaluate mentees in a supervisory capacity. For example, graduate students who are simultaneously engaged in an evaluative role (e.g., graduate teaching assistant, peer supervisor) with a mentee may not objectively evaluate the junior student’s academic, research, or clinical performance. As is the case with other faculty academic mentoring relationships, graduate students’ actions toward their mentees may be perceived as preferential by junior students who are not involved in the mentoring relationship” (pp. 696-697).

Confidentiality, privacy, and legal concerns

“Given that mentorship is a personal relationship involving trust, the issue of privacy should also be considered in graduate student mentoring relationships. Although exchanges between a graduate student mentor and their mentee are not typically classified as “confidential,” the expectation of privacy between mentor and mentee is also relevant and unclear. Mentees may choose to disclose private or personal information to their mentors in the spirit of seeking advice or counseling.

Informed consent principles would imply that it should be made clear to the mentee what information may be conveyed to relevant faculty or department individuals, as those individuals may eventually write letters of recommendation, evaluate the mentee’s performance, or make hiring decisions. To this effect, mentors should alert the mentee if the mentee has shared information that the mentor feels should be conveyed to a third party. For example, a junior graduate student may disclose a number of sensitive issues to a peer mentor, such as difficulty adjusting to program expectations or ethical breaches on the part of the mentee’s academic advisor” (pp. 697-698).

Graduate mentors should be sensitive to needs of minority students.

“Graduate student mentors should look to maintain their cultural competence when working with minority peer and undergraduate students. Graduate students should seek diversity training and be informed of multicultural literature designed to increase cultural competence. Graduate mentors may also help to connect minority students to campus organizations and encourage networking opportunities. Graduate mentors may also help to foster a culturally competent atmosphere in their programs, departments, and campuses by advocating for diversity enhancement efforts (e.g., diversity enhancement committees, student forums, changes in curriculum).” (p. 700).

Mentorship is predominantly concerned with what is best for the mentee.

“Most important, graduate students and faculty must ask themselves, ‘What is in the best interest of my mentee?’ Asking oneself this question can act as a potential safeguard when dealing with personal interactions, offering advice, and supervising mentees. As mentoring relationships are built on trust, keeping this mind-set will also help young mentors consider their own competence and mentoring relationships, and to help prevent harmful or ethical dilemmas.” (p. 700).

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