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Apprenticeship & Mentoring

Perhaps even more than other educational settings, the relationship that develops between the professor and the graduate student often takes on aspects of the master and apprentice model frequently seen in learning trade skills. Educational researchers working in the Situated Learning field (e.g. Lave & Wenger, 1991) suggest that learning often occurs as a means of becoming part of a social group. Learning in these situations occurs in the context of learning the easiest and least costly skills first and more complex skills with time. The order of learning rarely parallels the steps necessary to complete a product but is, instead, a series of tasks with increasing complexity and risk that is only later understood as steps in completing the product. While learning of tasks often occurs through communication with other apprentices of various skill levels, the master still serves as the role model and guide for much of the practice. Likewise, the research professor serves as a guide and confidant for completing the Master's or Doctorate program.

In this aspect of being a mentor, the professor serves as a master of the craft for learning how to complete the goals and tasks associated with obtaining the degree. The relationship is often a learning experience in multiple directions, with the professor and the social environment being affected by the participation and learning of the graduate student. The net result is a healthy and dynamic learning environment that is beneficial to all that are involved, especially the mentor and the mentee, but that can also have impact on the larger community (e.g. department). Rarely does a graduate student learn all of the necessary skills for completing the degree in a sequential order like the steps in a recipe. Instead, they learn a variety of skills as they are presented (e.g. when a class is offered) and only later assemble them into a framework necessary for completing the degree. The role of the professor/mentor is often to make sure that the necessary learning experiences are available to the student, whether those experiences occur in the classroom, as part of research, or other avenues of interaction.


Companion Questions:

1) True* or False? The relationship between the student and the professor often displays characteristics found in apprentice and master relationships within trade skills.

2) The learning environment that is created between a graduate student and professor is beneficial to:

  1. Only the student
  2. Only the Professor
  3. The student and the professor
  4. The student, professor, and their learning community.*
* = Correct answer