Creation of an instrument to measure graduate student and postdoctoral mentoring abilities in engineering and science undergraduate research settings

Benjamin Ahn, Purdue University


Studies and national reports have shown numerous benefits for engineering and science undergraduate students who have successful research experiences. One of the most critical elements to having a successful undergraduate research (UR) experience is the interaction between a mentor and a UR student. Recent studies have shown that many UR students are mentored by graduate students or postdoctoral researchers, yet, there are very few studies examining the successful mentoring practices by these mentors and/or assessing their abilities in engineering and science UR settings. Therefore, the purpose of this study was (1) to identify instructively effective graduate students' and postdoc researchers' mentoring abilities in engineering and science UR settings, and (2) to develop a psychometrically sound survey that assesses these mentors' mentoring abilities in UR settings. In the first phase (Phase I) of the study, semi-structured interviews were conducted with one postdoctoral researcher and 16 graduate students from engineering and science departments at a Midwestern university who were recognized as outstanding mentors by their UR students. From Phase I, the study determined the mentors' effective mentoring practices across various UR students' research activities (e.g., performing a literature review, conducting experiments, analyzing data) along with important mentoring knowledge, skills, and attributes (KSAs). In the second phase (Phase II) of the study, survey items for assessing graduate and postdoctoral mentors' KSAs were generated based on the results from Phase I. The survey items were administered to 101 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers who had mentoring experiences in UR settings. An exploratory factor analysis and an item analysis resulted in the creation of a 30-item survey assessing the most desirable abilities for UR mentors categorized into four factors: (1) Building a positive working relationship with the UR students, (2) Recognizing the individual student's needs and personalizing the mentoring approach, (3) Being attentive to the daily tasks performed by the UR students, and (4) Building a personal relationship with the UR students. The findings of this study can inform current and future graduate students and postdoctoral researchers about key practices and important mentoring KSAs to mentor UR students successfully. In addition, the developed survey can assess UR mentors' strengths and weaknesses across four distinct factors when mentoring undergraduate researchers. This study has the potential to assist graduate students and postdoc researchers become better mentors in UR settings. In turn, undergraduates will likely have successful and satisfactory UR experiences, which could increase the number of undergraduates who pursue advanced degrees or careers in engineering and science.




Cox, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Educational evaluation|Science education|Higher education

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