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Mentoring Undergraduate Researchers
Good mentoring is at the core of ensuring a successful undergraduate research experience. In addition, at Caltech, our faculty widely believe that involving undergraduates in their research is the only way to help students understand what is happening at the cutting-edge of their respective fields. However, we also recognize that mentoring undergraduates takes time, energy, resources, and above all, commitment. The resources on this page are designed to support your work!
Mentors, Co-Mentors, and Associate Mentors
- All Caltech faculty including research, teaching, and visiting faculty, the professional staff, faculty associates, and members of the JPL technical staff may serve as mentors. Caltech students may also arrange a project with a faculty member at another college or university or other research institution. The mentor maintains the overall research, safety, and financial responsibility for summer students. This includes preparing for the student's arrival; providing adequate supervision, support, and safety training; and collaborating with students on meeting all program requirements.
- Mentors often assign another member of the research group to provide day-to-day supervision of a summer student. Co-mentors may be senior graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, technical staff, or other colleagues. While the role of the co-mentor will vary from group to group, they often provide the day-to-day oversight of summer students and their progress. This includes providing support, advice, and guidance; including students in all aspects of the research group; helping to initiate interaction with faculty; encouraging students to take intellectual responsibility for their project.
- Students doing a SURF at institutions other than Caltech/JPL are required to have a Caltech faculty member (in an aligned research area) serve as an associate mentor. The primary role of the associate mentor is to ensure that the academic rigor of the student's proposed project is compatible with Caltech standards. This might include discussing the proposed project and reviewing the research proposal in advance of the student applying and meeting with the student upon their return to campus in order to support their ongoing research efforts. The associate mentor does not have any financial responsibility for the student award or research costs. Associate mentors will be required to submit an associate mentor evaluation form at the time the student applies. Additionally, associate mentors will be provided access to the student's interim reports and final report. Associate mentors will not need to approve these reports but are encouraged to use them to monitor the student's progress throughout the summer.
- Students needing an associate mentor should seek out a professor whose research is in a similar or aligned field as the student's proposed project. For example, if your proposed project is in geology, you will want an associate mentor in geology, not electrical engineering. When reaching out to potential associate mentors, be prepared to share your research proposal (if complete) or a short description of the proposed work. Describe why you are interested in the proposed work and in working with the off-campus mentor. You want to have ample discussion with the associate mentor so they can write a strong evaluation after you submit your application. We also encourage you to continue conversations with your associate mentor over the summer to share your progress and discuss any roadblocks or interesting discoveries along the way.