Compass Mentoring Topics

Mentoring Topics

Your First Mentoring Meeting

Make sure to exchange the following information: 

Best Phone to reach you at:

Frequency of meetings:


Time of Day:                                     Day of the Week:

When someone doesn't show up for a meeting I feel? How much notice does each person need to change a date/time?

Planning for the term

Everything has a season, spend a session with your mentor going over or making time to map out predictable phases of the next quarter or two (no pressure to go that far in advance, but for some that's helpful) Look ahead at the next 10 weeks, write down what you know might come up and talk through some of the ways you might more strategically approach deadlines, application due dates, and balancing the projects you're managing with life outside lab or class.

Examples of a few predictable phases for undergrads:

  • summer work/internships applications
  • Second term slump? Reinvigorating study habits
  • Finding balance in attending inter-house parties and getting work done
  • Grad school application, job interview travel
  • Leadership turnover in clubs and executive committees
  • House trips
  • Spring break planning
  • Stress management
  • New classes
  • ADD HERE what you know is coming up for your over the next 10 weeks, events, trips, commitments etc...

Examples of a few predictable phases for grads:

  • Choosing an advisor, strategies for managing that relationship
  • Conference travel and work balance
  • Navigating family and relationships after the holidays
  • RA recruitment and hiring
  • Academic preview days for admitted or potential admits for each division
  • Navigating and balancing romantic relationships
  • Student Faculty Conference
  • Winter career fair
  • Stress management

Mental Rest and Relaxation

"Our bodies require regular periods of rest and relaxation (R&R) in order to recover sufficiently from training and prevent exhaustion and injury. So, too, do our minds. Not only do we need to take breaks from the (often intense) intellectual work in the STEM disciplines – for rest, social interaction, play – we also need to pause regularly from the intellectual and emotional work…" (Grant & Pritchard, 2015).

Questions for your mentoring meet up

  • what's your practice around R&R?
  • how do you make time for this practice?
  • how could you fit in...
  • short 5 minute breaks
  • shifting focus to something else
  • engaging in a physical activity
  • talking it out with someone
  • developing and pursuing your personal interests (outside of your STEM field)  

Mentorship takes two

5 ways you can start or maintain your mentoring relationship

  1. Text or Email to say hello and one thing (anything - school, relationships, spring break, weekend plans) that has been on your mind.
  2. Share an image or quote that makes you laugh, smile, or think. 
  3. Set a (small) goal for yourself (for the day or week) and then let your mentor know about that goal.
  4. Gratitude, share something you are feeling grateful for
  5. Be Vulnerable. Answer the question, "If you really knew me you would know..." and share something new. This can be done in person or via written communication.

Don't have time to do any of these right now? Set a reminder or alarm that reminds you to get in touch.

Setting Intentions together
Intentions are different from goals because we can't fail at them. We can set intentions that leave room for the journey along the way and play a role in helping us achieve what want.  Our conscious intentions influence the unconscious ways we move through the world.

Instead of Goal: "stop procrastinating"
Think about why are you procrastinating. Don't like the project? Not feeling appreciated or seen? Everyone else's work comes first? 
Set an intention that helps you to come alive and feel more engaged. A few ideas would be 
"Center in on the feeling that brought me to my science and why I'm pursuing this degree"

"I want to integrate more of what brings me joy in my day"

A few ideas on getting intentions going: 
Vision boarding - This can be on a piece of 8.5/11 paper just write out what you want for yourself, what helps you feel your best, what brings you joy? When do you feel safe? what would help you to feel supported?

Monthly or Weekly check ins with your goals and intentions - what do you need to make these a reality can you add anything to a post it note so you can see it and be reminded of what you need/want?  Maybe you and your mentor/mentee can be one another's accountability buddies on this one!


Deepening Your Mentoring Relationship

Informal mentoring relationships are set up with four stages.
1. Building the relationship
2. Exchanging information and setting goals

3. Working towards goals/deepening the engagement
4. Ending the formal mentoring relationship and planning for the future.
Right now you let's look to explore how working towards your goals and deepening your engagement is the focus. 

Reflect on progress toward goals and on the relationship itself.
Consider discussing the following:

  • What are the benefits of the relationship up to this point? How am I helping you (mentee) achieve your goals?
  • What changes do you see in yourself and in the way you approach your work as a result of the mentoring relationship?
  • What kinds of adjustments or changes, if any, are needed in your goals or in our relationship?

Productivity and Your Email

Take this opportunity to exchange your current strategy for addressing and utilizing your email. Below is a checklist for beginning to think about where you could develop, improve or try a new strategy.  There is no one size fits all, but hopefully, through opening lines of communication and asking others what works for them, (and what doesn't work) you can work towards finding what works best for you.

  • Delete email before reading when it's not relevant or the material is easily available elsewhere.
  • Read and respond immediately to emails that require a short answer.
  • Do not open the email that will require lengthy response: do these at the same time every day
  • Create a file of common questions and answers.
  • Create a letter template for common requests.
  • Limit your time on electronic media so it does not invade your entire day.
  • Do not respond to emails or answer the phone during your times you set to write, complete other tasks, etc.

The One Question, Email Habits and Boosting your Productivity for Good

No time to skim the article here are few key takeaways:

Ask this question of yourself: "What's the ONE thing I can do that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?"

For the author, they found their practice of checking email first thing did not help them to do their best work. Whatever you find is your one thing, the next steps follow to address that one thing.

Take your time: set a time limit, create a time that makes sense, schedule how you'll accomplish this task.

Train others: let others who might need to know about this change know. Communicate the change you've made so people can realign their expectations.

Be Flexible: don't punish yourself for slipping back into your old ways or create one more thing that you have to worry about. Draw your consciousness to a place of awareness around the change and know that sometimes you might have to make amendments to your new plan.

Don't Underestimate the Change Process: It takes time. Take the time to reflect on what is working and what is not working. Think about the keys, triggers, rewards, what's at stake, and expectations.

Discuss with your mentor/mentee what is working for them in their methods and what are the challenges they are facing. How can you set yourself up for success and a better relationship with email?

Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in A Distracted World

Cal Newport
Don't have time to read the book? Check out this podcast and article. The podcast is called
Hidden Brain The value of Deep Work in A Distracted World.
Key Points:

Many of us react to the buzzes, beeps, and constant emails that come from our phones with great urgency

We're downplaying the problems created by constant interruption.

We're also denying ourselves the satisfaction that often comes from committing our full attention to a task. Replying to a string of emails rarely arouses this same feeling.

Discussion question for you and your reflection:

What are strategies that might help you to cultivate deep attention and what you might gain when you can fully immerse yourself in a project, task or work.

Ideas for Meetings with your mentor and mentee 

Meetings with your mentor/mentee don't have to cost a thing!

  • Take a walk
  • Bring coffee/tea from your respective places and meet up with drinks in hand
  • Bring your food from home and meet up
  • Writing buddies
  • Bring a song (computer/phone/youtube) to write to. Take the first 2 minutes freewriting to a song
  • Introduce one another to a new part of campus
  • Meet at the turtle pond
  • Come to a monthly Grad/Postdoc women's lunch – totally fine for undergrad mentees/mentors too.


Closure and transition are important and here are just a few questions to help guide you in that process

  • Look back at your original goals, check out your setbacks/progress to determine if you should engage in any subsequent follow-on in a post mentoring relationship
  • Celebrate your successes! Boast about your accomplishments, revisit the journey, share some of your appreciations about each other
  • Discuss your relationship transition. I would encourage all of you to find the balance that is right for you –but I hope you'll agree to stay in touch on an informal basis

Closure questions:

  • What did you learn over the course of the year?
  • How have I applied or where might I apply what I've learned?
  • What are the next personal/professional development opportunities to look for?
  • What worked well in this partnership
  • What did we learn about ourselves?
  • What did we learn about each other
  • "I admired you're…"
  • "you have a real knack for…"
  • "I especially appreciated it when you…"
  • What didn't work so well and why? Missteps or difficulties offer rich experiences for learning

Articles to Read and Discuss

A teacher mispronouncing a student's name can have a lasting impact

TLDR- here are a few of Corey Mitchell's Key points

"My name is where I come from," Michelle Thuy Ngoc said. "It's a reminder of hope,"

"My Name, My Identity is a national campaign that places a premium on pronouncing student's names correctly and valuing diversity."

"If they're encountering teachers who are not taking the time to learn their name or don't validate who they are, it starts to create this wall"...

Michelle-Thuy Ngoc didn't always embrace her full name, figuring that it would make other people uncomfortable. For years, she ignored the Vietnamese half of her first name, simply going by Michelle. The order in which Vietnamese names are spoken differs from English.

"Why Self Compassion Works Better Than Self-Esteem" 

by Olga Khazan

A few of her key points: 

"Though self-esteem continues to reverberate as a pop-psych cure-all, the quest for inflated egos, in her view, is misguided and largely pointless."

"Neff proposes a better path: Self-compassion. In other words, treating yourself just like you would your best friends, even when they (you) screw up."

"When we fail, self-esteem deserts us, which is precisely when we need it most. And so the problem is we're constantly comparing ourselves to others. We try to puff ourselves up. We have what's called self-enhancement bias, where we see ourselves as better in almost any culturally valued trait. There's a large body of research showing that bullying is largely caused by the quest for high self-esteem—the process of feeling special and better-than."

"So, when we have self-compassion, when we fail, it's not "poor me," it's "well, everyone fails." Everyone struggles. This is what it means to be human. And that really radically alters how we relate to failure and difficulty. When we say, "Oh, this is normal, this is part of what it means to human," that opens the door to grow from the experience. If we feel like it's abnormal, this shouldn't be happening, then we start blaming ourselves."

"Self-compassion also provides a sense of self-worth, but it's not linked to narcissism the way self-esteem is. It's not linked to social comparison the way self-esteem is, and it's not contingent, because you have self-compassion both when you fail and when you succeed. The sense of self-worth that comes from being kind to yourself is much more stable over time than the sense of self-worth that comes from judging yourself positively."


"STEM's Glass Ceiling for Asian American Women"

  A few of her key points:

This is the first in a series of posts aimed at presenting data on the institutional sexism that affects Asian American women (and by extension other women of colour).

Asian Americans represent approximately 5% of the total American population, with roughly 60% (and falling) of our community representing foreign-born citizens. Due to the self-selective impact of the immigration process (which disproportionately supports legal entry of wealthier and more highly-skilled immigrants and their families), Asian Americans are marginally over-represented (relative to our overall population size)  in higher education. Yet, despite these figures, the gender income gap persists for Asian American women for many reasons.

Asian Americans report the highest rate of workplace discrimination of all groups — 30-31% of all AAPI report some form of race-based barrier to advancement (although only 2-3% of complaints filed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission are from AAPI complainants). Within the STEM field, there exists innate barriers to achievement for Asian American female scientists. Specifically, despite earning roughly the same number of total degrees and STEM degrees as Asian American men, Asian American men outnumber Asian American women by 2 to 1 in the STEM workforce.


Allies and Microaggression

Kerry Ann Rockquemore
Here's one more tool for your toolbelt! 
 I want to be a better ally for my colleagues, but I'm not sure how to do so or whom to ask for help...
"Ganote, Cheung and Souza teach a technique called "opening the front door" (OTFD) as a first step to engage in micro resistance in the kinds of contexts you've described (such as faculty meetings, hallway conversations and informal gatherings). It's quite simple:

  • Observe: Describe clearly and succinctly what you see happening.
  • Think State what you think about it.
  • Feel: Express your feelings about the situation.
  • Desire: Assert what you would like to happen.

For example, if an ally said something like, "When your response to the fact that this group is almost entirely male is to suggest we ‘meet at the mall' (observation), it sounds like you think female leaders are primarily concerned with shopping, and that's insulting to them and their accomplishments (think). I feel embarrassed and uncomfortable (feel), and I would like us to take the concern seriously and discuss why women have stopped attending our events (desire)."


Hilary Clinton, Melissa Harris- Perry and the Opposite of Imposter Syndrome

Anna Kegler

"...self-confidence in the face of oppression is extremely disruptive to power structures. Audre Lorde called self-love "an act of political warfare", and Maya Angelou wrote about its power to upset and offend oppressors. When a woman is confident instead of self-doubting, it means she's no longer playing by the rules. It triggers intense pushback, as we'll see in the stories of Hillary Clinton and Melissa Harris-Perry..."

The content of this article/publication does not reflect the official opinion of the Caltech Center for Diversity or Women Mentoring Women. Responsibility for the information and views expressed in the article lies entirely with the author(s). 

More Resources for Mentoring

SFP Mentoring Tips and Resources
Mentoring URM students