For students just starting their PhD, having the advice of a trusted mentor can make a world of difference. To help form those relationships, the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering (PME) at the University of Chicago has created a new peer mentoring program that matches first year PhD students with peers further along in their academic journey.
The program, which officially began with the 2021-2022 academic year, holds regular informal meetings, offering opportunities to socialize and discuss recent events. Mentors also meet with their mentees at least once a month to discuss concerns or questions, creating an essential link for many just beginning their doctoral studies.
“Peer mentorship is extremely important for building a sense of community and helping foster a collaborative environment where nobody feels like they are alone,” said Anchita Addhya, who serves as one of the program’s three student leaders. “This is especially true in a program like PME, where people from different academic and socio-economic backgrounds come together to work collectively towards common interdisciplinary goals.”
That sense of community and connection can also help with issues common in graduate programs such as imposter syndrome, Addhya explained. Student mentors can provide personal insights into University practices and expectations that might be too distant for those with less recent experience.
“Holistically, we want all mentees to feel like they have someone to talk to who understands UChicago culture,” said Jeremiah Kim, who also serves as a program student leader. “We can listen to the challenges they’re experiencing and direct them to resources that they might not be aware of.”
For mentors, the program presents an opportunity not only to share knowledge they’ve gained while at Pritzker Molecular Engineering, but to take on a leadership role. Mentors will receive training as part of the program, ensuring they have the resources and information they need to successfully aid their peers.
Already, the peer mentorship program has held a number of successful meetings where students have met and shared helpful tips about campus resources like the University of Chicago’s myCHOICE career initiation program for first years, health and wellness workshops, and the University’s safety programs.
“As the peer mentoring program grows, we hope to help bridge the gap between different cohorts and lab groups in the PME,” said Nicholas Macke, the third student leader. “By encouraging diverse interactions early in the academic career, we hope that these conversations continue and lead to a more inclusive environment and more collaboration inside and outside of the lab.”