Best Practices for Mentors How to make the most of your mentoring experience

The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education wants to help you make the most of your participant’s research experience by avoiding these common mentor mistakes. The ultimate goal of your participant’s project assignments is to provide them with an opportunity to receive hands-on experience related to his/her educational and professional background, while also learning about research areas related to your agency’s mission.

An important note: The science education program through which your intern is appointed to is not intended to provide workers to augment your organization’s staffing. Therefore, project activities assigned to the participant should be appropriate for an education and training program and should not include inherently governmental functions such as project managing or budgeting, personnel management, clerical responsibilities, etc.

Some other important dos and don’ts of mentoring include:

Mentoring Dos Mentoring Don’ts
Develop, and use, a training plan for your participant. The plan can include the areas of participation in the project, attendance in meetings, conferences, special courses, etc. Do not consider your participant as an employee, for any purpose. Participants receive no salary or fringe benefits: rather, they receive a stipend during their educational experience.
Clearly define the activities in which your participant will be involved. Let your participant know your expectations for progress, professional behavior, compliance, attendance, etc. Do not consider your participant to be performing work. Rather, they are engaged in an educational research experience.
Help your participant get settled at your site and help them become a productive member of your research community.

Do not consider them as rendering advisory or personal services.

Provide your participant with appropriate materials, equipment, safety training, technical and clerical support, and office space. Provide ongoing technical guidance and advice. Do not consider them as providing expert advice.
Be accessible. Do not consider the appointment as a commitment to future employment by DOE or others.
Periodically review the status of your participant’s activities and give appropriate feedback. Do not consider the appointment as dependent upon the performance of any specific work or the delivery of a product.
Approve appropriate absences by your participant. Do not assign program management authority, signature authority, or official job titles to your participant.
Inform ORISE immediately if a stipend payment needs to be adjusted due to an adjusted schedule, an unpaid absence, or an early termination.
Involve ORISE immediately if your participant demonstrates an inability to function effectively within your environment.
Involve ORISE immediately if any concerning incidents occur or if the participant registers a serious concern.

Time Schedules

A full-time participant is making a full-time educational commitment and thus should avoid obligations that will interrupt his or her appointment. Your participant should be assigned a project that demands full-time attention (based on 40 hours per week). Part-time participants’ assignments should be based on their appointment agreements.

Here are additional guidelines to consider when managing the schedule of an ORISE research participant:

  • Absences—Participants do not earn annual or medical leave, but may be allowed occasional absences without a reduction of their stipend. All such absences must be approved by the mentor and should be allowed on a limited and as-need-be basis only.
  • Making up missed time—Every effort should be made to have the participant make up any missed time. If the missed time cannot be rescheduled or is not permitted without stipend reduction, inform ORISE immediately.
  • Holidays—Participants are paid for federal holidays. For holidays and emergency closings, the participant follows the same schedule as the mentor’s facility.
  • Early termination—If the participant chooses to end the appointment early, the mentor must notify ORISE immediately.

Designing a Project

  • Start early! It takes time to design a suitable project.

    Start early! It takes time to design a suitable project.

  • Consider safety issues

    Consider safety issues.

  • Make it empirical (if possible) by connecting theory to practice with hands-on learning

    Make it empirical (if possible) by connecting theory to practice with hands-on learning

When designing a project for your ORISE research participant, the project should:

  • Provide the participant advanced experiential learning that complements his or her academic course of study and connects theory to practice.
  • Give the participant an opportunity to increase his/her confidence; enhance communication, quantitative reasoning, and teamwork skills; and engage in critical thinking and problem solving.
  • Remain flexible so you may change or adapt the project based on participant feedback.
  • Be STEM focused.
  • Relate to the facility’s mission.