Duke University Department of Sociology Mentoring Statement

Duke Sociology is a top-rated department in the discipline because of the research faculty produce and, equally importantly, the successful training and professional placement of our graduate students.  Providing excellent mentorship is crucial to our department’s continued success.  In this document, we provide an overview of our mentoring system.

The Mentorship System in General

The department aims to promote healthy mentor/mentee relationships by providing a flexible but structured environment for students that begins prior to their first year of study.  First, we assign all entering graduate students a first-year faculty advisor, based on students’ and faculty members’ shared areas of interest. In many if not most cases, incoming first-year students select their first-year advisor by agreement with the faculty member.

First-year advisors are expected to meet regularly with their assigned students to ensure that they are enrolling in, attending, and making satisfactory progress in required coursework during their first year.  First-year advisors should reach out to their advisee(s) prior to the start of the fall semester and set up a meeting to discuss any issues and answer any questions the student may have.  The advisor and student should aim to meet at least twice more during the first semester—around fall break and at the end of the semester in December.  The student should initiate these meetings, but if the student does not, the faculty advisor should.  Advisors and first-year students should meet again prior to spring break and before the end of the academic year.  Again, the student should initiate these meetings.  However, if a student fails to do so, it is incumbent on the faculty advisor to reach out: failure to contact the advisor may be a sign that the student is having difficulty. Any problems experienced by the student or advisor should be brought to the attention of the DGS immediately.  Whenever possible, such interactions with the DGS will remain confidential.

At any time during the first year, advisors and students may decide that another faculty member would be better suited to advise the student.  Terminations/transfers of mentor-mentee relationships should be brought to the attention of the DGS, who will set up the student with an alternative advisor.

At the end of the first year, students may choose a new faculty member to mentor them or adopt their first-year advisor as their longer-term mentor.  Long-term relationships between mentors and mentees usually form organically in second and subsequent years.  In the third year, graduate students must form a dissertation committee, and the dissertation committee chair—or chairs—formally become(s) the student’s mentor(s).  This arrangement remains a formal one for the remainder of the student’s academic career at Duke.

As with the first year, in any subsequent year of study, a student may terminate a relationship with a mentor or vice versa.  When this happens after the establishment of a dissertation committee, the process requires approval from The Graduate School.  The student must have the agreement of an alternative mentor who can take over as chair of his/her dissertation committee.  Prior to making such a decision about replacing a mentor at this stage, the student should meet with the DGS to discuss it.

Whereas first-year students may only meet with their advisor a few times in each semester, more advanced students should meet more regularly with their mentor (i.e., at least monthly) as they work toward developing their dissertation proposal and, after the third year, as they write the dissertation.  It is up to the student to arrange regular meetings, but faculty mentors should be proactive in reaching out as well.

The parameters of the mentor-mentee relationship cannot be rigidly delineated: such relationships vary considerably across faculty-student pairs.  Some students desire very close working relationships with their mentors, while other students prefer greater independence.  Faculty mentors should tailor the level of mentorship they provide based on their mentees needs.  Regardless of the extent to which mentors and mentees interact, an important role of the mentor is to provide regular feedback to their mentees about how they are performing in the program.  The annual review of graduate students (discussed below) is one opportunity for formal feedback, but mentors should provide feedback throughout each academic year.

Coauthoring between Faculty and Students

In the second year of the program and beyond, students often engage in research with faculty and other students.  Because co-authorship of papers between faculty and students is routine, order of authorship should be discussed early in the research process, as should the scope of work required for a mentor or student to merit co-authorship.  Disputes should be brought to the attention of the DGS and department chair as early as possible prior to paper submission.

Annual Review of Graduate Students

As part of Sociology’s mentorship efforts, the Graduate Faculty review students at the end of each academic year at the department’s last faculty meeting.  Prior to the meeting, at the end of graduate classes, students are asked to submit some form of Individual Development Plan (IDP) to the DGS.  As part of the IDP, students submit a copy of their CV, along with a listing of (1) stated goals from the previous year, (2) activities undertaken over the previous year for achieving those goals that includes a self-assessment of performance, and (3) a list of goals for the next year.  The student provides a copy of the IDP to the DGS as well as to his/her mentor.

Before the faculty meeting, the DGS submits a survey requesting the faculty provide feedback on all active students.  Each faculty member who has worked with a student in coursework, as a research assistant, or as a teaching assistant reviews the quality of the student’s work.  The DGS compiles this information and presents it to the faculty.  Faculty identify students to consider for annual awards and discuss ways to help those with subpar ratings.  As soon as possible following the faculty meeting, the DGS and faculty mentor meet with struggling students to devise a plan of action.  The department’s handbook for graduate students describes in detail consequences of inadequate performance, including termination from the program.

Respect between Mentors and Mentees

Respect between faculty mentors and graduate student mentees is a cornerstone of good mentorship.  At the very minimum, faculty and students must abide by university standards of conduct, which includes refraining from engaging in actions or making derogatory statements based on faculty members’ and students’ age, sex, race or ethnicity or national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, or physical or mental health.  Anyone observing actions or statements between students, between faculty, or between faculty and students that violate this standard should visit our department’s website statement on workplace environment (https://sociology.duke.edu/about/statement-workplace-environment) for guidance on how to report it.  Further, both graduate students and faculty should raise any concerns with the DGS if it involves interaction between graduate students, with the DGS and department chair if the concern involves interaction between graduate students and faculty mentors, or with the department chair if it involves interaction between faculty members.