Students are hesitant, perhaps wary of demanding too much from busy faculty. Your best bet in developing faculty mentor relationships is to let it happen naturally, but with a special meaning of “naturally.”
You begin by taking inventory of all those occasions where you might have one-on-one contact with particular faculty members whose research relates to your own interests. You will find that there are many such occasions that happen naturally, as you go about your normal everyday affairs as a graduate student:
- discussion of a potential topic for a seminar paper, or a discussion of potential sources for researching the topic;
- participating in research workshops where students and faculty participate, or any department activities where students and faculty come together;
- acquiring letters of recommendation for fellowships, which almost automatically entail a discussion of your research and your qualifications to do so;
- inquiries on serving as a research assistant on a faculty project (students in the non-science fields would first have to identify faculty members who tend to use research assistants).
A mentor relationship can be defined as going beyond just narrow academic advising; typically the mentor takes the whole person into account, conveying a sense of support and encouragement, perhaps guiding the student through the various stages of professional development. To reach that level you will need to follow up and sustain the dialogue, which tends to be easier once you have broken the ice with the initial encounter. If you pursue some initial suggestions, you can report on how things are going; gradually you can share other pertinent factors about your life and how you arrived at your interests and goals, perhaps asking to hear more about the faculty member’s own career trajectory. In sustaining the dialogue, you could take advantage of a faculty member’s office hours (according to reports, you will probably not encounter a long line), or you may make an appointment.
Faculty members may not go out of their way to actively seek such a relationship, but we have frequently heard reports that they are pleased when students do reach out to them. With luck, you may find that you have developed multiple mentors, each with differing skill sets, interests, and personal backgrounds that they are happy to share.