In my academic career, I’ve probably learned, at the least the important stuff, more from one-on-one mentorship than ever in the classroom, both as the student and the mentor. This first start for me years ago in New Orleans when I worked closely with my mentor at the time, Dr. Cameron Camp, as we would sit side by side and jointly write an article together, but with him taking the lead and showing me how to do it. It is that one-on-one interaction when all skills, insight, knowledge, experience, and creativity come together with another person in accomplishing a predetermined, specific goal that learning occurs through modeling and especially doing. It also provides an opportunity to really get to know where students are in their understanding of their own knowledge in a particular field.
I’ve worked one-on-one with many honor’s undergraduates, predocs, postdocs, and junior faculty usually on research projects, theses or dissertations, or independent studies. In general, the arrangement and the outcome are the same and focused on one ultimate final goal (along with several penultimate goals leading up to the final goal) – to publish an article from our time together. As I strongly convey to my students, “If it is worth doing, it is worth publishing.” Now this goal of publishing may seem too lofty for some students and perhaps to some faculty as well, but I find it to be an excellent tool to logically focus the learning activities into easy to understand bites. Also, and probably most importantly, publications are one of the most recognized and esteemed currencies in academia (i.e., “publish or perish”), and undergraduates from junior faculty recognize the value and thrill of being published. Thus, teaching and mentoring one-on-one with students with the outcome being a published peer-reviewed article serves as an incredibly effective motivator. So how does this work?
It usually involves several steps. First, the topic to be learned and written about must be decided. Sometimes the student has a topic of study in mind already, or other times the mentor is already working on a project and invites the student onto it, or sometimes it is a combination. For example, one of my nursing doctoral students wanted me to teach her how to use structural equation modeling (a very specific type of statistical analysis) for her dissertation in an independent study. In her case, it was clear what the topic was. This was a good opportunity because I was itching to write a paper on how to understand structural equation modeling anyway. In another example, a nursing undergraduate honor’s student wanted to learning more about cognition (a broad area to say the least); so for him I assigned him to write two sections of a review article on “the relationship between specific co-morbidities on cognition” I was already drafting with some of my other graduate students.
Second, it is paramount to make specific and achievable goals. For my two aforementioned students, I suggested readings or told them where to find the readings and set them off to acquire, consume, and digest the literature. They were welcome to call and e-mail me if clarifications were needed along the way as they read and looked up more readings; however, their main task was READING.
Third, meetings must be scheduled to discuss the material they read. For my students, we meet periodically (i.e., biweekly or bimonthly as needed) to discuss their readings, review any areas of confusion, and assess what other readings are necessary for writing the article. This third step is repeated until they thoroughly understand the material (i.e., you can’t write if you don’t know what you are writing about). However, if my students are already savvy and knowledgeable about a certain content area, I may have fewer meetings with them and let them skip more ahead to the writing stage and just meet with them about what they have written.
Fourth, once the student understands the material, sections of the article are assigned for him or her to write. It is probably best, especially for novice student writers, not to tell them to just write an article. Writing for publication can be a daunting endeavor to even some faculty. So providing plenty of structure of what is required is extremely helpful. In my case, I often work with my students to develop a detailed outline for them before I send them away to work on it. I also make it very clear what their assignment is on the article and what is mine. If I finish my section(s) sooner, I’ll go ahead and send it to my students so they can see what I’ve written in order for them to get a feel or idea of how their section(s) will need to flow with mine.
Fifth, this is the revise, revise, and revise stage. This is when we meet and I review their work and examine how my writing blends with theirs to form the article. If there are needed clarifications for their section(s), I point out exactly where and off they go again to fill any gaps that are not clear. Sometimes this requires rewriting for clarity or fact checking or expanding on a concept, depending on the need of the article.
Finally, once their section(s) of the article is acceptable, as the mentor I take the responsibility to edit the entire article in order for it to have a single writing style and voice. Then I send it to my students for feedback, along with the necessary paperwork required (i.e., copyright release, author bio) by the prospective journal. I find this process of CREATING AN ARTICLE helps my students not only learn the material, but helps them to learn to write for publication. It can be a scary process to publish. But by teaching in this manner, I hope I not only can convey to my students the process of how to think and write independently, but how to organize a goal-directed project. This process can also help them tackle other challenges in their careers that they will confront. With over 130 peer-reviewed publications on my CV, it seems to be working well for both me and my students who are getting published.