Tips for being a good mentor – grad student edition

Mentorship is a concept constantly brought up in professional settings, but, at least in my experience, the discussion generally takes place through the lens of the mentee: “How do I go about finding a good professional mentor?” “How do I expand my mentors beyond a research advisor or senior graduate student?” “Exactly how do I keep up contact with my mentor?”

But what about the other way around? What questions should the mentor be asking? If you search ‘tips for being a good mentor’ there are tons of articles with great content (e.g [1] [2] [3]). However, all of this advice is rather broad, and I want to write for grad students. Here, we’ll have a brief discussion on how to be a successful mentor, specifically in the context of an academic research setting.

As a senior undergraduate, circumstances beyond my control had me leading a research project originally conceived for a graduate research assistant. About 2-3 weeks in, I was told that my advisor had agreed to participation in a program that gave high school students research experience. And, just like every professor ever, my advisor was extraordinarily busy, and told me to just deal with it. So, I was getting an assistant.

Here are a few things I learned:

Preserve enthusiasm! Most students that voluntarily choose to join a research group are genuinely excited to be there. They most likely could have taken another course, or found a desk job. Above all else, it’s important to preserve their enthusiasm.

Give them a challenge, but be realistic. To start off, assign them technician type work — repetitive, simple tasks that are nonetheless critical to gathering results. Demonstrate exactly how to use the necessary equipment. Don’t leave them without a way to contact you.

Gradually increase responsibility. At first, ask them to prepare samples. Then, have them run tests. Then, teach them how to convert the data they generated into useful results. Then, ask them what they think is the next step.

Treat them as a member of the group. Formally introduce them to the rest of the group. Add them to the group’s google group. Encourage them to present at group meetings. Invite to any [age appropriate] social gatherings.

Admit any limits in your scope of knowledge. If they ask you a question you don’t know the answer to, just admit it. Say: “I’m not sure. I’ve never really thought about it. Maybe do a literature search? Let me know if you find something!”

Praise along the way. Not in a grandiose, sarcastic way. Just a quick “nice” or “good work” will be a major confidence boost to a younger/new student.

Offer feedback. If you think they’re moving in the right direction, tell them. If you think they aren’t, gently nudge them back on track.

Understand everyone is different. Of course — one of the most widely applicable pieces of advice ever. But it’s still valid. Some students might be slow, others fast. Some might work for a while and realize they don’t really like the research (don’t take that personally!)

Offer advice outside of research. Don’t do this unsolicited, but my high school student [wisely] asked me lots of questions about picking a college/picking a major/picking professional groups [of course I recommended SWE!]/picking recreational groups/deciding to join a sorority/even picking out a new laptop!
I’m sure I missed lots of great tips, so if you have one, please share! If you have a similar experience, let me know how it turned out!


Learn Socially. Meet Locally. Registrations are Open for WE Locals!

Do you know WE Local conferences are happening- and may be in an area near you? As a local version of annual conferences with many of the same session tracks and events, WE Locals are designed for you to Learn Socially, Meet Locally.

Come and join us for WE Local to improve your SWE experience with the offerings of networking, learning, and outreach activities for women engineers. You will get the opportunity to meet with potential employers and connect with peers while building your skills through professional development workshops.

WE local conferences take place all over the world. Don’t forget to register! Registration open for the upcoming WE Local 2018 conferences:

WE Local Pune
March 21-23, 2018

Registration: First Come, First Served.

WE local Pune is in a high demand, please register as soon as possible.


WE Local Portland
April 6-8, 2018

Premier Registration:

  • Early Bird: March 8, 2018
  • Regular: March 22, 2018

Career Fair Only:

  • March 29, 2018

WE Local Providence
April 20-22, 2018

Premier Registration:

  • Early Bird: March 23, 2018
  • Regular: April 6, 2018

Career Fair Only:

  • April 13, 2018

WE Local Prague
May 16-18, 2018

Registration: First Come, First Served.

As a graduate student, don’t miss the opportunity to network, explore job opportunities, and make professional connections during the WE Local conferences. Don’t hesitate to spread the word. We can’t wait to see you there!

How we all benefit from increasing diversity

Last month I planned a symposium entitled “Equity in the Job Search” that integrated career advice with discussion of the biases facing women during the job search. Part of the philosophy behind this symposium is that since everyone exhibits gender bias, we can’t address the problem in lasting ways without including people of all genders in crafting solutions. However, as I have realized through planning similar events in the past, getting men to attend a “gender” workshop is challenging. Sadly, this difficulty is only more prevalent for other underrepresented groups.

As part of my push to get more male grad students to attend this symposium, I wrote a motivation page about the many benefits of diversity. This blog post expands on those thoughts, illustrating how a more inclusive culture has far-reaching benefits for everyone in an organization. I hope that this post will be useful to anyone trying to convince those around them that diversity issues are relevant beyond the members of underrepresented groups.

The benefits of increasing diversity can be seen by comparing the financial performance of diverse companies to that of their less diverse counterparts. Scientific American clearly lays out several studies that have illustrated this effect:

  • After Orlando Richard, a professor of management at the University of Texas at Dallas, and his colleagues surveyed executives at 177 national banks in the U.S., they found that for innovation-focused banks, increases in racial diversity were clearly correlated with enhanced financial performance.
  • After examining the influence of gender diversity on the performance of the top firms in Standard & Poor’s Composite 1500 list, business professors Cristian Deszö of the University of Maryland and David Ross of Columbia University showed that firm value increases by $42 million with women in top management positions.
  • Similar effects can be found by examining companies across the world: a team of researchers at the Credit Suisse Research Institute found that among 2,360 companies, those with at least one woman on their boards delivered higher average returns on equity and better average growth.

Diversity helps increase creativity and improves company performance because numerous studies have shown that heterogeneous groups prepare better and more thoroughly consider all evidence. Furthermore, social diversity makes it more likely for diverse perspectives to be voiced and considered. This is critical for innovation, which requires looking at problems in new ways.

Inclusion is necessary to realize the benefits of diversity—such as mutual respect, improved conflict resolution, and increased creativity—and to avoid tension between diverse social groups. It is crucial to ensure that these benefits are sustained in the long term. Quotas and other initiatives to increase minority hires can increase the number of women and other minorities in the workforce, but inclusive workplace cultures are necessary to ensure that those hired stay and advance.

Moreover, an inclusive culture doesn’t just benefit the minority—it creates a more attractive workplace for everyone involved. This has proven particularly true for millennials.

However, if those in the dominant group aren’t included in conversations about diversity, then they often lose sight of its benefits or view inclusion as a zero-sum game that puts them at a disadvantage.

I believe that by including members of a majority group in conversations of diversity we can help reduce the impression of diversity initiatives being “us vs them.” This is not to say that we should let those in dominant groups control the conversation about diversity, but that more lasting change can be accomplished by including all players.

I hope that moving forward, we can change the conversation about diversity by showing that everyone benefits from more inclusivity.

International Women’s Day

Happy International Women’s Day! International women’s day commemorates the movement for women’s rights.

American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) released an interview of Jonna Gerken, current SWE president. In the interview Jonna discusses the challenges and opporutnies that women engineers are facing today. She notes that company culture is one of the biggest challenges.

Jonna also discusses her priorities for her term as SWE president. The three main priorities are professional excellence, advocacy and globalization.

Reading her interview, its clear that company culture needs to change and finding advocates and allies might be the way.  To read the interview in full or learn more about International Women’s Day, please see the links below!


Women Earning More College Degrees – Still Underrepresented in Career Levels

A new study about women in the work place has just been released. The study has a lot of interesting statistics and tips or suggestions. We will be presenting some of the information in a series of blog posts.

The first sentence of the report is striking, “Women remain underrepresented at every level in corporate America, despite earning more college degrees than men for thirty years and counting.”

Why is this still an issue, with record number of company’s committed to gender diversity?

An interesting direct quote from the report may have one answer, “Men think women are doing better than they really are.”  As leaders in our field, we need to educate others around us about the issues that we may be facing.

How do you educate others?
  • First educate yourself by reading the recent articles and data.
  • Have a clear objective for these conversations:
    • For example, I want to improve the career training for young professionals. I suggest to management that we could have monthly brown bag lunches about career topics.
  • Be prepared for tough questions on how this will help the company.
    • Empowering and developing your employees can pay off in the long run.
    • Studies have shown more diverse group come up with more efficient and effective solutions.
  • Keep doing it. Get out there and educate others about the opportunities that can be improved.

Graduate Member Spotlight: Jodi Lonneman

Jodi Lonneman

Master of Engineering

Engineering Management

University of Louisville


Jodi has been an active member of SWE since 2009. She has held several positions, including President, Secretary, and Outreach Director at the University of Louisville. Her work has had direct impact on many young girls, and she held events with the Girl Scout troops to build wheelchairs for wounded or disabled dogs. Jodi was identified as a SWE future leader for her service to SWE, and was also awarded Outstanding Member of SWE. The Manufacturing Institute recently awarded Jodi as a 2018 STEP Ahead Emerging Leader.


Jodi’s Brief Explanation of her Work


While taking classes, I work full-time at Toyota Motor of North America. I work in the stamping department where I strategically plan and develop new vehicle models at multiple manufacturing plants across the continent. I have assisted in justifying the purchase of new stamping equipment, which resulted in a reduction of annual logistic costs. I have also demonstrated strong leadership skills by working with a team to develop and standardize the quality requirements for new technology utilized in the 2018 Camry.


With a Masters in Engineering Management degree, I hope to further my professional development as an engineer with Toyota. I continue to develop my critical thinking and decision-making skills, which will provide me the confidence to enhance in my career. My career goal is to be in a senior management position in the manufacturing industry. Ultimately, as a female engineer, my goal is to inspire and motivate the next generation of woman engineers to pursue careers and thrive in STEM fields.


What are some of your hobbies? What do you do in your free time?


I love to travel! One of my goals is to visit all of the National Parks in the U.S. In my free time I enjoy doing yoga and cooking new recipes.


Fun Fact about Jodi: I have been playing the cello since I was 9 years old! I am SCUBA certified too!

Graduate Member Spotlight: Kazi Tasneem

Graduate Member Spotlight

Kazi Tasneem

PhD Candidate

Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Vanderbilt University


            Kazi has been a member of the Society of Women Engineers since 2010. She currently serves as the Region D Graduate Representative as well as the WeLocal Liaison. She also participates in the International Graduate Team within GradSWE. In the past, she has held positions such as Professional Development and Sponsorship Chair at the University of Central Florida.

Kazi’s participation in conferences goes beyond the typical SWE conference experiences. Kazi has been active at WE conferences, and has served as a Graduate Judge for the Undergraduate Rapid Fire sessions. She has attended the Collegiate Leadership Institute held at the WE conferences, as well as the Academic Leadership for Women in Engineering Program, for which she won a travel grant.

Outside of SWE, Kazi volunteers her time through FabFems, which is a mentoring program. She also participates in the Advisory Panel for the International Chemical Engineering and Science Magazine, ChE Thoughts. Kazi also served as the Vice President and Treasurer of the Bangladeshi Student Association during a time period where the University of Central Florida recognized the group for its efforts. For her extensive efforts and successes, Kazi was awarded the Frank Hubbard Engineering Scholarship for her extracurricular activities and Graduate Presentation Fellowship.

Kazi is not only active in outreach and diversity work, but is very successful in her research. She was awarded Best Paper by The Minerals, Metals & Materials Society this past year. She represented Bangladesh as Young Researcher and attended the 59th Meeting of Nobel Prize Winners in Chemistry in Germany.

Prior to her current graduate work, Kazi received a MSc in Materials Science and Engineering from University of Central Florida as well as a MSc in Environmental Engineering with Dean’s Fellowship from Carnegie Mellon University.  She completed her Bachelors Degree in Chemical Engineering from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology

With a multidisciplinary background with experiences in Chemical, Environmental, and Materials Science and Engineering, Kazi has been working in the area of the characterization of toxicants and their effect to environment and human health experimentally and computationally. Her current research area involves computational prediction for drug transport and its toxic effect in human, using powerful modeling tools computational fluid dynamics to investigate chemical toxicity in human organ on chip microsystems. She also works on an exciting computational project in which she models cellular signaling of calcium around tissue-level wounds.

Kazi has worked as a Laboratory Lecturer at the University of Pittsburgh for a year, and found she enjoyed teaching. Because of this positive experience, she is considering a career in academia, however she is keeping her options open between academia and industry.

Outside of her research and active outreach service, Kazi enjoys watching Netflix, cooking, and strength training. Her personal best is currently a 125lbs deadlift! She hopes to continue achieving PR’s as she continues in this hobby.

Interestingly, Kazi attended an acting class at Carnegie Mellon, where she performed as Julia Roberts from Notting Hill and she got an A for acting! Kazi loves to sing. She has had 5 years of training for Tagore song. As an undergraduate, she participated in singing performances in Bangladesh.

Kazi Tasneem (1)