Pioneer scholars share how they made the most of mentorship relationships with faculty

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After Pioneer applicants undergo fierce competition through the admission process, it is common that they may feel nervous about getting started in a program famous for its rigorous system. Mentorship by a university professor is one of the components of Pioneer’s academic system. Transitioning from small group cohort sessions to one-on-one meetings with their professor, Pioneer scholars have a unique opportunity to form a fruitful relationship with an academic mentor. However, this can be an understandably daunting experience for high school students, as they have likely never had a meaningful interaction with a university professor. Here, three Pioneer Scholars share how they overcame shyness and made the most of their mentorship relationships. 

For high school students, it is normal to worry that having a conversation with a university professor will be difficult. After all, what do a teenager and a prestigious intellectual have in common? Fortunately, these fears are unfounded. Tejas (art history, 2019), a Pioneer scholar from the United States, assures new Pioneer scholars that there is no need to worry about trying to impress your professor with intellectual conversation topics. “I built a relationship with my professor in one of the most mundane ways. She lived in New York, and I lived in Chicago, and we would just talk about how awful the weather was and how cold and snowy it was. And then we would delve into research, of course,” he says. The simple act of making small talk and recognizing that his professor was a normal person helped him to build a mentorship relationship, which in turn set the foundation for his research experience “I think that seeing my professor as an individual and having her see me as an individual and building a personal connection was paramount to fostering a good research experience,” Tejas explains. “That really showed when I would tell her the individuals I had lined up for interviews and she would give me advice on them. Ultimately, she was able to recommend one of the foremost scholars of Leonardo DaVinci in the world…Ultimately, I was able to get an interview with him.” 

Janae-Rose (anthropology, 2019), a Pioneer scholar from the United States, also encourages students to speak up. In particular, she advises bringing in outside material that is related to class to show interest and engagement. “My professor was really friendly… I would always respond to his messages and reach out to him, because the more questions you ask, the more it shows you’re interested, and I was interested. So instead of being shy, I just talked to him. If I saw something that made me think about what we were doing in class, I’d bring it in. My advice would be to just not be afraid of talking, even if what you have to say doesn’t seem 100% related,” she says. 

Yifei (mechanical engineering, 2019), a Pioneer scholar from China, was able to build a lasting relationship with her faculty mentor. She reminds current and future Pioneer scholars that professors are not only researchers and intellectuals, but also teachers who care about their students.  “My professor is a friend…. He is an expert in the field, and because I am a novice I used to not be confident talking to him. But the vast majority of professors in Pioneer are really caring. They know we might be nervous, and they want to talk to us and make us confident. After talking to my professor and realizing he is open to my opinion and appreciates it, I decided to talk more to him, but in class and after class… Especially when writing my paper, I consulted with him every step of the way… You do not need to be nervous. Your professor is an expert not only in researching, but also teaching. They know what you are thinking,” Yifei explains. 

While it is perfectly normal to be nervous before meeting with your professor, this should not hold you back from building a mentorship relationship. As these Pioneer scholars testify, Pioneer’s faculty mentors are approachable, caring, and willing to help students meet their full potential.

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