About Grad Peer Circles
The Office of Graduate Studies is increasing our support for graduate peer mentoring by creating new Grad Peer Circles under Mentoring Your Way. Through Grad Peer Circles, we facilitate connections between early-stage graduate students and more advanced graduate students, with the goal of better supporting the transition into graduate school.
Stay tuned for future updates to Grad Peer Circles programming, as we are working to expand this program from its current departmental focus to A&S-wide peer mentoring. The expanded program will involve connecting peer mentors to mentees from different departments who share similar life experiences, such as international graduate students, graduate students from underrepresented backgrounds, first-generation students, and graduate students with children. We are also developing reading and writing groups to allow our late-stage graduate students (e.g., those studying for comprehensive/qualifying exams, writing dissertations, etc.) to connect with each other in an environment that supports continued progress toward completing their degrees.
More information about this expanded programming, including sign-up forms, will be distributed in February 2024.
How It Works
Departmental Peer Circles
Each MA and/or PhD-granting department in A&S is eligible to receive funding from the Office of Graduate Studies to support peer mentoring activities, with funding allocations based on department size. OGS facilitates training and accountability structures for departmental peer mentor leads. Our Departmental Peer Circles allow flexibility for each department to structure their peer mentoring programs in a way that makes most sense for their nuanced needs.
Departments with a larger population of graduate students often select one or two advanced grad students to serve as peer mentor leads, who coordinate a larger group of peer mentors. Departments with fewer graduate students often have anywhere from one to three peer mentors total, who serve equally as peer mentor leads. OGS can help structure (or re-structure!) your department’s peer mentoring program if requested.
Peer mentors can use the funding for Departmental Peer Circles to take their mentee out to lunch or coffee, for example, or to organize an event bringing a larger group of the department’s graduate students together (e.g., a Q&A roundtable, conference paper workshop, social event for informal mentoring, etc.). Generally speaking, a mix of one-on-one meetups and larger group events is most effective for supporting the transition of incoming graduate students.
See the section on reimbursement processes below for more information on using peer mentor funds.
Peer mentors should use the Peer Mentoring Reimbursement Form to submit peer-mentoring expenses for reimbursement. More detailed instructions can be found on the form. It is important to save all itemized receipts showing proof of purchase. Please keep in mind that alcoholic beverages cannot be reimbursed through peer mentoring funds.
Itemized receipts must include:
- The business name and contact information
- What items were purchased and the cost of each item (note that a receipt showing the total amount without itemization is not sufficient)
- Proof of payment, i.e. proof on the receipt showing that payment was actually made.
- If you pay by credit/debit card (typically the easiest option), turn in your receipt showing card payment (you can mark out your card # and any other non-related expenses that you are not being reimbursed for).
- If you pay by cash, ask the vendor to mark the receipt as “cash payment/paid in full.”
- If you pay by check, turn in a bank statement or copy of the cancelled check for the transaction.
If you are the peer mentor lead for your department, you should send the form (with itemized receipt showing proof of purchase) directly to OGS’s Graduate Student Affairs Coordinator for approval (email@example.com). If you are not the peer mentor lead for your department, you should obtain the approval of the peer mentor lead before submitting to the Graduate Student Affairs Coordinator.
Peer Mentoring Training
The Office of Graduate Studies is creating a new training model for peer mentors. There will be a required annual training covering policies and procedures (e.g., reimbursement processes, key resources on campus, etc.) as well as professional development for peer mentors (e.g., best practices in mentoring, creating a mentorship plan, etc.). In addition to this annual training event, OGS will create a Canvas course with resources to support continued development as mentors.
Stay tuned for more information about these training opportunities, coming Spring 2024.
The Role of a Peer Mentor
What is a Peer Mentor?
A peer mentor serves as a resource—a helping hand, a sounding board, a referral service—providing both personal and professional support for students in the early stages of a graduate program. A good mentor will be familiar with departmental rules, expectations, and procedures, and, in the event the mentor cannot answer a specific question, will be able to direct students to those more knowledgeable. Although peer mentors are not expected to be equipped to deal with psychological crises, disputes with advisors, and other personal or degree-related issues beyond their training and expertise, they should be familiar with the people and services available to students who face these issues. Students usually become peer mentors in doctoral programs only after completing their second year. Note, however, that peer mentoring programs differ in size, structure, etc., from one department to another, so that this is not always the case. This handbook is designed to help peer mentors meet the needs of students in their department and navigate particular administrative procedures specific to the peer mentoring program.
What is the commitment to become a peer mentor?
Students who wish to become peer mentors are asked to commit to their departmental mentoring program for at least one year. Ideally, peer mentors would commit for two years, gaining experience in their first year as a peer mentor and passing on that experience to new mentors in the second. We encourage peer mentors to stay in the position as long as necessary to ensure that incoming students make a smooth transition into their program.
How should I be available to my mentees?
Peer mentors are encouraged to be available in multiple ways, including offering students an email address, office location, and phone number. Each mentor should set healthy boundaries for communication based on their personal wants and needs (for example, a peer mentor might request not to be contacted by phone after 7pm). We encourage peer mentors to proactively share resources with their mentees for where to go / who to contact in case of emergencies. Peer mentors are not responsible for handling emergencies.
To what extent should a peer mentor maintain confidentiality?
Students will be encouraged to approach peer mentors with any issues they would like to discuss, and these conversations will usually remain confidential. However, there may be occasions when a problem arises that the mentor is not equipped to deal with. On such occasions, the peer mentor should discuss options with the student such as consulting someone, either inside or outside of the department, for additional advice. It is up to the student to decide if it’s okay for the peer mentor to share any identifying or situational information with the person being consulted. Peer mentors should feel free to describe situations in a general manner to other peer mentors and to staff members in the Office of Graduate Studies and/or Student Health Services in order to get advice. However, peer mentors have an obligation to report any information regarding self-harm or harm to others, whether actual or potential, by the mentee; such reports must identify the mentee. Peer mentors also have an obligation to report any information received regarding sexual harassment, discriminatory harassment, or sexual violence; such reports can withhold the mentee’s name.
How and when should I initiate contact with my mentee?
If you are matched with a specific student or group of students, email or phone to ask when and if they would like to meet. At the first meeting you can discuss how often they would like to meet with you. We encourage all peer mentors to check in with their students at least once a semester. You should make sure all students are included in the community, especially students who are at risk (e.g. students who seem withdrawn, on dissertation fellowship, returning from the field or leave, participating in dual-degree programs, etc.).
What type of advice should I be prepared to give to students?
Students tend to ask how long it usually takes students in your department to complete a degree, what steps are necessary to complete a degree, things you have learned along the way towards completing your degree (perhaps things you might have done differently), how to work with advisors, etc. You may also be asked about the more personal side of the graduate student experience, like how to manage stress, cope with doubts about staying in graduate school, balance relationships with work, live on a graduate student budget, etc.
What do I do if the person I'm mentoring says that they think they might quit grad school?
Ask why! If it is something you have been through before, talk about your experience. Find out if it is actually the program, the field of study, or the profession that they dislike, or if they are having emotional difficulty. In the latter case, a referral to counseling services may be the most appropriate response you can make.
What should I do if I find that I may not be the best mentor for an assigned mentee?
If you feel as if you just don’t click with a student, discuss the situation with your peer mentoring coordinator. Hopefully, you will get some idea as to who might better serve the student. You can then introduce the student to this other mentor and explain why the other mentor might be a great person to consult about a particular issue. It is probably best not to drop the student officially but just to let the transfer process happen as naturally as possible. If severe mentor/mentee problems occur, consult the Graduate Student Affairs Coordinator in the Office of Graduate Studies.
For how long will I be expected to mentor?
This varies among the students in your department. You might stick with some students for their entire graduate career, while others might not ask for mentoring advice after their first year; other students may connect with other mentors as their needs and interests change. The minimum commitment we ask for is one year, during which you might be involved with different students at different times. Ideally, each mentor would commit for at least two years so they can remain a resource for new peer mentors.
Creating a Successful Peer Mentoring Program
Identify your goals
Clarify your primary goals: Does your department require an even balance of academic and social support? Or is your job primarily social in nature? Make sure your projects and programs are geared toward your goals. Think big, but start small. While creating and maintaining connections between the entering graduate students and other members of the department is the top priority, the work of a mentor is creating as many opportunities for this to happen as possible. Take it one project at a time.
Foster an Inclusive Environment
Be sure to invite students in your department who haven’t specifically volunteered to be peer mentors. Mentors facilitate connections, but they don’t always have to be the person the mentees connect with. Try your best to have diversity in mentors so that all mentees have access to people they feel comfortable with.
Engage with other support structures
Build support from administrators, faculty, staff, other student organizations, and community members. Peer mentors provide an additional support structure while in graduate school, but it shouldn’t be an alternative support structure. Peer mentors should liaise with Directors of Graduate Studies, your program coordinator, and other faculty members. Everyone has the same goal: to facilitate a more successful graduate school experience for the newcomers to your department.
Resources for Peer Mentors
If you find yourself confronted with issues beyond your time demands or expertise, whether personal or professional, there are people and offices on campus that can help. Always start with your department if possible.
The Office of Graduate Studies
The Office of Graduate Studies website contains academic and policy information graduate students may have questions about. In particular, peer mentors should be familiar with certain contents of the Policies and Guides pages. Specific departmental policies can be found either in the Bulletin or in their respective websites.
The Office for International Students and Scholars
Peer mentors should refer international mentees with status questions (e.g., work authorization, maintaining visa status, etc.) to The Office for International Students and Scholars.
Student Health Services - Danforth Campus
The Student Health Services (SHS) website contains all of the information your mentees will want and need about the health services that come with the Student Health & Wellness Plan. The website also contains info on how to get a referral to a provider outside SHS, how to process claims, how to contact the plan administrator with questions, a health insurance guide for international students, etc.
Located in the Habif Health & Wellness Center in Dardick House on Shepley Drive, SHS includes medical, mental health, and health promotion services (see each tab on the SHS website for detailed information about each service). In addition to medical services, SHS offers a variety of mental health services for graduate students. Individual counseling is available for students to address personal concerns including adjustment to graduate school, stress, relationships, depression, and grief. Full-time students are eligible for up to 15 sessions each year; the first 9 sessions are free and additional sessions cost a small fee per visit. Counseling sessions can be scheduled online or through SHS at 935-6666. Free and confidential group counseling is also available. For more information on group counseling, please call 935-7253.
Student Health Services - Medical Campus
The Washington University School of Medicine Student and Occupational Health Services provides healthcare for students enrolled in the Department of Biology and Biomedical Sciences and other PhD programs at the WU School of Medicine. Visit their website for details on contact information, making appointments, available coverage benefits, after-hours services, and spouse/dependent insurance plans.
WUSM Health also provides mental health services for its students, including on- and off-campus psychological counseling. If you are in need of a counselor, you can obtain a list of available counselors from the WUSM Health website. The first nine visits are free, and on subsequent visits you will pay a small co-pay. Please check with WUSM Health Services for additional services and policies.
Relationship and Sexual Violence
Students with concerns about relationship or sexual violence should be directed to the Relationship and Sexual Violence Center. Kim Webb, the Director, can be reached during business hours at 314-935-8761 and after hours through WUPD at 314-935-5555 or SARAH at 314-935-8080. Kim and the Relationship and Sexual Violence Center can help with seeking medical care, counseling, emergency housing accommodations, reporting to the police, filing a complaint through the university or other immediate or long-term needs. The Center also offers a Green Dot training program that we recommend to all peer mentors and coordinators.
Helpful Financial Resources
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