"[Mentoring] is important for every student and particularly at the graduate level," Gilbert says.
In the field of computer sciences, Gilbert says, certain ethnic groups predominate, and so they have more of a network or what Gilbert refers to as "footprints in the sand."
But for students from groups for whom there is not a "critical mass" in a given field, "you have a situation where mentoring is even more important for those students."
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"You're not going anywhere without mentoring," says Gilbert, whose mentoring efforts were honored in December 2011 with the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring, an honor given annually by the White House to individuals and organizations.
Mentoring is just as beneficial to her as it is to her students and that that certain chemistry is key to making a mentoring relationship work, Larson says. She says she wonders if graduate students who somehow don't get paired up with mentors recognize the value of what they're missing.
"I think there's personality and chemistry with mentoring," Larson says. "I think there's something about being able to connect. I think making sure there is a fit there is important—sometimes common ground or a theory or niche. The relationship is important. Not everybody has that relationship."
McConaha says one of the best ways to get paired up with a mentor is to do quality work. "People notice when you work hard, and people notice—especially instructors, the department chair and other professors—when you're dedicated and motivated and you work hard," McConaha says. "It sounds so cliché, but it's the truth."
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