Online Mentoring Suggestions for Faculty During COVID-19

In an effort to provide some suggestions on mentoring graduate students during this uncertain time, the Office of Graduate Education gathered some resources for your consideration. Please see this important information below, and contact Joanne Lax ( if you have additional suggestions for mentoring that you are willing to share.

Stressors your Students are Experiencing:

In the past few weeks, we have been hearing from our graduate students about some of the challenges they have been facing:

  • They are having trouble focusing on their work
  • They are concerned about their research, academic deadlines
  • Internships have been canceled, and other plans disrupted
  • Their sleep schedules have become erratic
  • If they are T.A.s, they are having trouble establishing boundaries with their undergrads
  • Some advisors are pressuring them to do more work, saying that the students have plenty of free time now
  • Working at home is challenging if they have children and no space where they can concentrate on their work
  • International students are concerned about their families, and they have had to cancel trips to see their families and wonder when they will be able to see them again


CoE Faculty Advice:

  1. Stay in regular contact with your students, individually and in groups. Be a “caring presence,” “show empathy,” and let them know that you are there to support them. Use videoconferencing platforms, email, and phone calls. Some faculty have observed that students seem more reserved in online meetings, so you may have to work harder at drawing them out. Include some talk about non-research topics. Many are concerned about COVID-19 personally and for their families, here and especially abroad in areas less able to adapt to the crisis.
  2. Be flexible in your expectations for your students. Some have lost focus and motivation, or feel stressed that they do not have sufficient results. Continue to hold meetings to provide structure for the students, and think about breaking down their work into “smaller achievable goals.”
  3. If the lockdown means that your students are unable to continue their regular research, have them use this time to write manuscripts, analyze data, design new experiments, and/or read extensively on new topics and share what they have learned with their peers.
  4. George Zhou suggests The Craft of Research  for his students (downloadable for free):
  5. Be patient and encourage your students to be patient with themselves as we all adjust to this new (abnormal) normal.
  6. Margaret Gitau recommends “5 Tips for Working Remotely” for her students:

We are grateful to Margaret Gitau, Craig Goergen, Julie Liu, Alice Pawley, Ruth Streveler, Andrew Whelton, and George Zhou for their valuable contributions.


Other Relevant Resources:

The following two articles, written by graduate students, give concrete suggestions about what faculty/the university can do for graduate students and how to talk with them at this time:

  1. N. Farah Foley, Don’t Forget About Graduate Students, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Mar. 31, 2020
  2. F. Lin, What Not To Say to Grad Students During a Pandemic, The Professor is In, Apr. 9, 2020.
  3. S. Walsh, Coping during COVID tip sheet
  4. Mentoring@Purdue workshop, “Providing Effective Graduate Student Mentoring During the COVID-19 Crisis” (
    1. The main points of the April 15, 2020 webinar:
      1. The onus is on the faculty to support their students—be proactive in communicating with your students and show that you care about them as people, and not just as students.
      2. Get outside your comfort zone and let your students know how the pandemic is affecting your life.
      3. Check in with students and look for signs that they may be having challenges (ex. silence).
      4. Be flexible about deadlines—think about what productivity looks like in a pandemic.


General Mentoring Suggestions:

  1. CoE faculty mentoring handbook
  2. J. Early and T. Nelson “How to Work Well With Grad Students,”
  3. K. Burgio et al., Ten Simple rules for a successful remote postdoc  --gives excellent examples for both the PI and remote researcher perspective. Helpful relevant rules to read in-depth:

Rule #2 - Prepare for Success: Communication and laying out expectations
Rule #3 - Make a Communication Plan: What is the best way to be in contact with your PI?
Rule #4 - Invest in and use video conferencing 
Rule #5 - Normalize remote interactions & cultivate digital spaces for the entire lab
Rule #8 - Actively work to combat isolation
Rule #10 - Accept and own having / being a remote postdoc (or researcher)