The cost of professional education is high. The price per scheduled contact hour is high. That should call attention to staying on task during those hours. In addition, academic institutions have faculty who develop and deploy the curriculum, and those faculty provide a resource to students for learning outside of regularly scheduled classroom hours. Informal interactions with faculty may have a greater influence upon student outcomes that the formal classroom interactions.
Elite athletes want the best coaching. Do professional students seek the best mentoring?
Students often choose not to interact with faculty because they are not aware of the potential benefits of this interaction. Students may not appreciate what faculty do outside the classroom. Students may be uncertain if faculty will be receptive and supportive. Faculty and students occupy different parts of campus and rarely meet. Students may perceive that faculty are not readily available. If class sizes are large, students may perceive that faculty do not know who they are and do not have time to talk. Students perceive faculty as rushed.
Faculty as experts seek critical appraisal of their work, including negative feedback. Students as novice learners want validation and seek positive feedback. Critical faculty feedback may be perceived as harsh. Students want a respectful learning environment with empathy from faculty, and may interpret negative feedback as belittling. Students may be intimidated by expert faculty.
Students may perceive that their interaction with faculty will increase their motivation to please faculty, and thereby will want to avoid disappointing faculty. However, this contractual relationship will require greater work on the part of the student. They may eqate interaction with commitment. Thus, students may avoid faculty interaction to reduce the potential cost of effort.
Students tend to treat interactions on a social level, while faculty are trained to approach their work as scientists seeking answers and explanations impassively. Academic interactions between faculty and students, however, have greater impact upon student success than social interactions.
Faculty must encourage intellectual curiosity and a love of learning, because students are usually focused on the short-term goal of passing a course and getting a good grade. Students are more likely to seek help for a specific need for a specific course, not for the sake of intellectual pursuit. Students need active encouragement to feel comfortable approaching faculty. When faculty exhibit humor and relate personal anecdotes, then students are more comfortable talking to them. When classroom activities are interactive, students are more comfortable approaching faculty.
Students who do seek faculty interaction report increased self-confidence, learning, and academic skills.
Mentoring involves an ongoing relationship between a student and a faculty member to develop and improve student academic performance.
For mentoring to work, the student needs to "manage up" (a variation of "cowboy up") and take ownership of the mentoring process, identifying needs and communicating those to the mentor, defining goals, understanding one's strengths and weaknesses, and developing and following a schedule.
Students need to set an agenda, communicate, be punctual, follow through, accept challenge, accept critique, reassess needs appropriately, convey respect, and show appreciation.
Faculty mentors need to be available, focus on the needs of the student, ask questions, track progress, identify strengths, reassess student needs appropriately, give feedback, and convey respect and confidence.
The following statement derived from a focus group best summarizes the process: "You can get through medical school without a mentor and do really well. But having a good mentor makes the process so much more bearable and so much more enjoyable."
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Hauer KE, Teherani A, Dechet A, Aagaard EM. Medical students' perceptions of mentoring: a focus-group analysis. Med Teach. 2005;27(8):732-734.
Rose GL, Rukstalis MR, Schuckit MA. Informal mentoring between faculty and medical students. Acad Med. 2005;80(4):344-348.
Zerzan JT, Hess R, Schur E, Phillips RS, Rigotti N. Making the most of mentors: a guide for mentees. Acad Med. 2009;84(1):140-144.