The Physics Department has a Mentor Program providing academic and social support to students enrolled in first- and second-year physics subjects including those taken by all students (8.01, 8.02, and their variations) and those taken primarily by physics majors (8.03, 8.033, 8.04, 8.044). The program pairs mentees (students taking one of the designated physics subjects) with mentors who are sophomores or beyond (including graduate students and postdocs) proficient with the physics content and who participate in ongoing training in mentorship skills. Mentees meet with their mentor for 40-60 minutes weekly one-on-one or in small groups, either in person or via Zoom. Mentors commit up to 4 hours/week for 14 weeks.

Benefits

Mentees receive weekly one-on-one academic assistance for a particular course as well as general support and advising. Mentors practice and improve their mentoring and teaching skills. They join a community of practice with faculty and staff, all of whom are committed to improving their skills and to learning from one another. The program benefits mentors, mentees, and the Physics Department overall by building an educational community that contributes to the success of mentees, develops the skills of mentors, and fosters community in the Department.

The program began when the COVID-19 pandemic forced students off-campus in 2020; a pilot project for 8.02 during the 2020 Spring semester was highly successful. The program was subsequently expanded to many more courses. Mentors are paid thanks to the generous support of the MIT Physics Department, School of Science, d’Arbeloff Fund for Excellence in Education, and/or Provost.

Pedagogy Course

Starting in the 2022 Fall semester, first time physics mentors and others interested in improving their knowledge and skills in teaching one-on-one and in small groups will enroll in a 3-unit class 8.S998: Mentorship Pedagogy and Practice. In addition to physics mentors, the class is open to TEAL undergraduate TAs, graduate student TAs, and all others interested in education. It is a requirement for first-time physics mentors. Participation in the course adds 2 hours/week to the typical 4 hours dedicated by most mentors.

Staff

For more information

  1. Short overview talk by Ed Bertschinger
  2. Spring 2020 program materials

“I’m so much more confident and feel a much stronger sense of belonging at MIT due to my mentor’s support and advice! I not only got better at physics, but also grew as a person in terms of dealing with stress, time management, and ways of thinking about a successful life. Physics mentoring was genuinely an integral part of my MIT first year experience and helped me find support and a home at MIT!”
 — Mentee, 2021 Spring

“It gave me perspectives on what it’s like to be a graduate student, what to take away from an undergraduate course, how physics differs from other disciplines, and just in general helped reduce stress in the semester.”
 — Mentee, 2021 Fall

“It meant so much to me that someone believed in me and was there to help me while I was struggling, shared their own experiences with me, and encouraged me to continue in physics.”
 — Mentee, 2022 Spring

“It was really nice to also interact with the professors as well and the teaching stuff. Within the mentorship program we had a kind of community that is generally not really there when you just have a class.”
 — Mentor, 2020 Spring

“This program helped me expand my understanding of the different struggles people face in their undergraduate physics career. I learned how to communicate physics more clearly, listen before talking, empathize first and then ask if people want advice, and how to guide people along to find their own answers.”
 — Mentor, 2021 Spring

“It has made me more confident that I would enjoy working in academia or other fields where teaching/mentoring are present.”
 — Mentor, 2021 Fall

“I found it very rewarding to have a chance to work closely with people whose experiences with physics were very different than mine, and to help them navigate the department. I also very much appreciated the opportunity to provide the mentorship that I would have wanted during my earlier years but never really got.
 — Mentor, 2022 Spring



Undergraduates can participate either as mentees or as mentors by applying using these forms:

Since the beginning of the program, mentees responding to anonymous surveys have expressed strong satisfaction with the program, with at least 97% saying they would recommend it to a peer.

The program is helpful for mentees of any level, especially those who are looking for personalized academic support. As one mentee noted in Spring 2022, “This program really really helped me with 8.01L and 8.02! It’s honestly one of the best things about the classes I’ve taken so far and I’m so grateful that there is a support system out there for those of us who are struggling.” But mentorship can be so much more. It’s a personal connection with someone who can help a mentee think through choosing a major, finding a UROP, or preparing to apply for graduate school.

Fun fact: most mentees, and about half of the mentors, are not Course 8 (physics) majors!


Graduate students may apply for the mentor program at https://mit.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_cMgmqTrUSiX23dk.

Graduate students and postdocs have found that participating as a mentor is a good way to connect with undergraduates, practice and improve teaching skills, and offer the kind of support and guidance they wished they had received as undergraduates. Some students are looking primarily for help with the course content, but most want some advice on other topics, too. Both mentors and mentees report that about 70%, on average, of their meeting time focuses on course content.

Note that the undergraduate student populations are different in the GIRs (subjects required of all MIT students, including 8.01, 8.02, and all their variants) and in the upper-level subjects (8.03, 8.033, 8.04, 8.044, taken mostly by physics majors). It’s important to listen to your mentee to understand what they are looking for in mentorship.


The Physics Mentor Program embodies the stated MIT Physics Values, one of which is Mentorship.

Faculty and staff can interact with the program in several ways.

  1. Instructors in first- and second-year undergraduate subjects provide mentors access to course materials. Instructors also receive helpful feedback from the program on how students perceive their teaching and course organization.
  2. Faculty, postdocs, and staff with expertise in one of the associated undergraduate physics subjects can participate as mentors. This is easiest for section leaders (as opposed to lecturers). TEAL instructors have found it very helpful to better understand their students’ learning and to gain insight into the undergraduate experience.

Faculty and instructional staff are welcome to attend one or more Community of Practice meetings, even if they are not otherwise engaged with the program. The CoP meetings provide a fascinating window into the physics educational community including undergraduate and graduate students, postdocs, staff, and faculty.