Some of the most important teaching we do happens outside the classroom, in one-on-one and small group advising. How can we do this well?
The kinds of mentoring relationships that develop in the context of research universities like Harvard—particularly those between graduate students and their advisors—can be complicated as well as rewarding, and require care and attention. They are, in certain key aspects, unlike almost any of the other relationships we experience as we move through life. From the ambiguity around what "reciprocity" means in a mentoring scenario, to the great variety of contexts in which academic mentoring actually happens, these relationships require special care and attention. There are at least five things that effective mentors can do to give their students the support they need.
Advising Senior Theses
Every thesis writer and thesis project is unique, and arguably the single most important thing that you can do as a thesis adviser is to get to know your student well and to be supportive and attentive as they work towards their spring deadline. Regardless of the precise structure and obligations surrounding your position as an adviser, there are a number of things which you can do to help just about any student have a meaningful, and successful, experience with the senior thesis.
Writing Letters of Recommendation
Writing letters of recommendation is a skill that will be of great importance throughout your teaching career, and should be viewed as an almost integral part of your teaching experience. Students in your sections or tutorials who have had a positive experience—in terms of what they have learned, or the work they have produced—are likely to come to you for a letter of recommendation. Indeed, an abundance of requests can be taken as an indication that you are a good teacher and have an ability to establish a rapport with your students. While there is no single "recipe" for producing effective letters, there are some general principles and practices which you can employ to give your students their best shot at success.