The Importance of Mentors
The role of the professor as a mentor is critical in both the enjoyment and successful completion of a graduate program. In her book Leaving the Ivory Tower: The Causes and Consequences of Leaving Doctoral Study (Lovitts, 2001), Barbara Lovitts cites many reasons that cause students to leave a doctoral program of study. One of the crucial elements involves the culture of the department and the ability of the faculty to take on a mentoring role. Graduate schools across the country have faced attrition rates of approximately 50 percent for the past 40 years. It should also be noted that this 50 percent figure is even higher for women as well as racial and ethnic minorities. Though some might seek to place the blame largely on students and admissions policies, Lovitts' combined quantitative and qualitative studies indicate that there are very few differences in the capacity and capabilities of completers and non-completers of graduate study.
According to Lovitts (2001), "It is not the background characteristics students bring with them to the university that affect their persistence outcomes; it is what happens to them after they arrive." Though other issues are also discussed, the interaction with faculty and the department is one of the core issues that influence successful graduate student outcomes. Because a faculty mentor is primary interface through which much of this socialization and interaction occurs, improvement of faculty mentors can have a direct impact on doctoral student attrition and improve the overall university learning experience.
1) Doctoral student attrition in departments throughout the country over the past 40 years has been approximately: