A peer-mentoring experience for graduate students

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By Pamela Bhatti, Marissa Connor, Jingting Yao, Daniela Staiculescu, and Ruth Poproski

A mentor is someone who provides guidance, assistance, and support to a less-experienced individual. The individual, a mentee, is a person who benefits from the guidance and assistance by learning from those who walked a similar path before him or her. In the context of graduate studies, an advisor-student relationship is consistent with this description. 

The faculty member’s role as advisor and mentor to a graduate student may be one of the most important relationships for the student during his or her degree program and beyond. Essential interactions include coaching for skill development, providing specific feedback on teaching and publications, giving career advice, and bridging professional networks for the mentee. However, the scope of the relationship is often varied and open to interpretation. As a result, gaining the tools necessary for success is essential for doctoral trainees, but it is often unclear how these needs can be met without supplemental support. 

Fortunately, we have observed that experienced graduate students have valuable insider’s knowledge and, often, an interest in contributing to the success of their peers–making them excellent resources for new graduate students. Furthermore, while both faculty and peer mentors provide support and career guidance, there is some evidence that peer mentors play a key role in providing psychosocial support for graduate students, while the primary function for faculty mentors tend to be career development. 

Embracing the age-old tradition of mentoring and leveraging a near-peer model, we established a student-sustained peer-mentoring program in the largest graduate electrical and computer engineering (ECE) program in the United States. Each year, about 100 doctoral students enter the School of ECE at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), Atlanta. Currently, our program participants are approximately 80% male and 20% female. Nearly 70% of our doctoral students are foreign nationals, and 30% are domestic. Our School of ECE encompasses 11 technical interest groups (e.g., bioengineering, signal processing and power systems), collaborates with other schools and colleges at Georgia Tech, and has close ties with other local research universities. This wide range of technical specialties and multidisciplinary offerings can be difficult to navigate. Peer mentoring can alleviate the confusion of new students who are grappling with an array of choices and trying to select the appropriate set of courses. 

Since fall 2014, we have paired more than 450 incoming doctoral students (mentees) with experienced students in the program (mentors). Ultimately, our goals are to successfully onboard new students, support persistence toward degree completion, and provide an overall positive experience for our doctoral students. In this article, we share the mechanics of our near-peer mentoring program. We also offer suggestions for implementing a similar program at peer institutions around the globe, informed by two surveys of the mentors and mentees. 

Read the entire article in the September/October issue of IEEE Potentials

(Note: This article was published in the September/October 2020 issue of IEEE Potentials, a magazine dedicated to undergraduate and graduate students and young professionals. Its authors are Pamela Bhatti, Georgia Tech ECE’s associate chair for innovation and ECE associate professor; Marissa Connor, a current ECE Ph.D. student; Jingting Yao, a recent ECE Ph.D. graduate and current Emory University postdoctoral researcher; Daniela Staiculescu, ECE senior academic professional; and Ruth Poproski, associate director for teaching and learning at the University of Georgia).


  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:Jackie Nemeth
  • Created:09/28/2020
  • Modified By:Jackie Nemeth
  • Modified:09/28/2020