Mentorship in Research: Getting by with a little help from my friends

Over the course of the semester, PCURs will reflect on the professors, advisers, and friends who shaped their research experiences. We present these to you as a series called Mentorship in Research. Most undergraduates have met, or will meet, an individual who motivates and supports their independent work. Here, Emma shares her story.


Shout out to my friends for helping me make smart decisions.

While many professors and advisers have offered me invaluable guidance throughout my academic career, my most helpful and memorable mentorship experiences have actually been with friends. Not that my friends and I often sit down and have formal discussions about our research paths. Rather, most of their advice comes in the form of consolations when I’m feeling unsure of my decisions regarding work and research.

I know what you are thinking. “Is support from friends really a form of mentorship?” I understand why this might seem confusing at first, but I truly believe that friends can often be the best mentors. My friends probably know better than anyone else what interests and excites me. Unlike with a professor or adviser, I don’t feel the need to impress my friends or worry about their impression of my choices. Plus, my friends are the ones who listen to all of my complaints about projects or commitments I’m not interested in. Seeing me at my best and my worst gives them valuable insight: They wouldn’t let me take on a project they didn’t think I would find engaging (if for no other reason than because they don’t want to hear me complain).

I saw the true value of friend-mentorship last fall when I was deciding on my course schedule for this semester. I was originally planning on enrolling in a French class that I was not particularly thrilled about. I hadn’t fully considered my options and this course seemed like the next logical step in that it would help improve my grammar and vocabulary. But while we were discussing our course choices, my friends pointed out that maybe this wasn’t my best option. They reminded me that the French classes I have liked the most were ones that taught vocabulary and grammar through focusing on a specific subject, like French politics or French literature. After revisiting the course registrar, I found a different French class—one focusing on voice and style in French writing—that I thought sounded more interesting but hadn’t originally given much thought to.

Not only did my friends help remind me of my academic interests; they also pushed me to consider logistical factors that would shape my experience in French class. They pointed out that the class I had chosen worked better with my schedule. It was twice a week rather than three times and didn’t involve me running across campus in between back-to-back classes.

This might not have seemed like a particularly significant issue to a professor or an adviser, but my friends knew that I would be generally more positive about the course if it fit well into my routine. It’s considerations like these that only friends will take into account when offering advice. Of course there are many instances when a professor, adviser or professional in your field can guide you most effectively, but I’ve never regretted considering the informed and sincere opinion of the people who know me best.

Emma Kaeser, Social Sciences Correspondent