• Undergraduate research mentors discuss mentoring experiences with Caltech students.

Campus Hosts Conference on Mentoring Undergrads

Faculty and Staff Learn Skills for Advising Students in Research

Hoping to become better mentors to Caltech undergrads, dozens of staff and faculty members gathered on May 11 for a daylong series of workshops, presentations, and discussions aimed at helping them hone their skills.

The event, Mentoring Across Difference: Conference on Mentoring Undergraduate Researchers, was open to anyone from Caltech or JPL who mentors undergraduate students in research.

The day opened with nine workshops from which participants could choose, featuring topics such as managing personality differences in a mentoring relationship, balancing competing demands, dealing with procrastination, and avoiding the pitfalls of perfectionism.

"Good mentoring relies on a set of skills and experience that develops over time," Candace Rypisi, director of Student-Faculty Programs, told the audience. "Our hope today is to provide you with information and a set of tools that you can use as you move forward on your mentoring journey."

Kelsey Boyle, a graduate student working in the lab of Jacqueline K. Barton, the John G. Kirkwood and Arthur A. Noyes Professor of Chemistry and Norman Davidson Leadership Chair of the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, hosted a workshop on how to translate and apply teaching pedagogies to mentoring situations. She said the day was a good reminder to mentors that the start of summer research programs is approaching quickly. 

"It's nice to get us thinking about who we're going to mentor," she says. "It gets people thinking about these programs before Day One."

Following the workshops, the 80-or-so attendees gathered for a keynote lecture by Becky Wai-Ling Packard, a professor of psychology and education and director of the Weissman Center for Leadership at Mount Holyoke College. Wai-Ling Packard, who is responsible for mentoring new faculty at Mount Holyoke, stressed the importance of creating an environment where mentored students can thrive.

In the afternoon, participants attended breakout sessions with panels of undergraduate students who shared their personal experiences of being mentored in a research setting.

Stefan Baldet, a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Erik Winfree, professor of computer science, computation and neural systems, and bioengineering, attended the breakout session for the Division of Biology and Biological Engineering. Baldet says he understands how difficult school can be for undergraduate students at times.

"I have been a student for a long time. I know myself. I struggled with things. My colleagues have struggled," he says.

He said that much of the information shared is something he has already learned through the years, but that mentoring conferences are valuable for keeping mentors up-to-date.

"It's good to know what the state of the art of mentoring is, so I know if I'm missing anything," he says.

Written by Emily Velasco