Student Roadmap - Online Communication

Making the Most of Your Scientist Mentor

“…The exchange in communication with the mentor and having a good mentor is key to your project’s success.” - Springfield High School student

Your PlantingScience mentor can help you with your project and more. Here are some tips for communicating with your mentor online.

  • Get to know your mentor by clicking on their picture and reading their profile, and introduce yourself to them as soon as you can.
  • Keep your mentor in the loop about what's going on in your classroom. Let them know how long you will have to do your experiments and how you plan to spend that time. Let them know what to expect.
  • Ask science questions even if they aren't directly related to your project. Curious about what it's like to be a scientist? Here's your chance to ask!
  • Share your thinking with your mentor and your group. When you write down both WHAT you think and WHY you think so, it helps your mentor understand where you are coming from. Lots of times writing down your thoughts helps you clear up your ideas or make a decision, too.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for more information or to ask a mentor to explain something another way if you don't understand. You are helping scientists learn to communicate better with science students.

FAQ about Mentor Communication

What might my mentor want to know about my team?

Mentors want to get to know you over the course of the project. You might want to let them know why you’re taking your science class, what you’ve learned so far about plants in your class, whether you think you might be interested in science as a career, the coolest science project you’ve ever done, etc. What are your hobbies? What do members of your team have in common?

How often can I expect my mentor to respond?

Our mentors volunteer to help out with PlantingScience, and sometimes their schedules can be pretty different from week to week. Generally, you should expect to hear from your mentor once a week or so.

If you think you’ll need a lot of help in a certain week and you can predict when you’ll need it, give your mentor a heads-up. Ask if they are available to read and post more when you need the help the most.

If you’ve asked your mentor a question and they haven’t yet responded, try asking the question in a different way. If they don’t respond in a week, ask your teacher to e-mail the PlantingScience team and we can try to get in touch with your mentor or get you some extra help with your project.

How often do I need to post? What if we don’t have anything to report yet?

The more you post, the better chance you’ll have of getting into good discussions with your mentor. If you don’t have any data to report, let your mentor know what is going on in the classroom. Let them know the materials you have on hand, or the schedule for when you’ll start each phase of your experiment.

Mentors are usually good about answering questions that aren’t directly related to your project. If you are interested in their research, what it is like to be a scientist, what got them interested in science in the first place, what their favorite classes were in high school, those are good questions to ask.

Your mentor can help you come up with a research question, or make suggestions for background research on your topic even before you’ve come up with a project.

What if our mentor doesn’t ever respond?

If you have posted introductions and asked your mentor some questions, and they don’t respond at all for over a week, ask your teacher to get in touch with the PlantingScience team. Sometimes the mentors aren’t properly linked to your team at the beginning, and they may not know about your team, or might not be getting notifications when you have posted to your page. We can fix this or assign you a different mentor when we are notified.

What if we have to go on break?

It helps to let your mentors know before you take a break from communication for whatever reason. If you don’t think you’ll be able to post again for a week because of a school break, or because you won’t have access to a computer, or because a few of your team members are sick or on vacation, post a quick note to let your mentor know you’ll be away for a while and when you expect to be back. Then your mentor can relax, stop checking the site every day and know when to get back with you.

What happens if we have to make a decision before our mentor gets back to us?

Sometimes you ask a question, but then answer it for yourselves before you hear from the mentor. When that happens, let your mentor know what solution you came up with so that they know you’ve got it covered. Let them know the reasoning you used to make your decision, or where you got help answering your question. If you think your question might be a common one, you can look through the research gallery or at other groups’ pages to see if another group might have had the same question answered by one of their mentors.

What if I need to fix typos?

If you are bothered by a typo or mistake in one of your teams’ posts, ask your teacher to edit the post for you. Teachers have access to edit your entries.

What if a mentor suggests we try something that we know won’t work because we don’t have the equipment or time?

If your mentor suggests a direction for your project that you don’t think will work, let them know. Tell them what you have to work with and they might be able to help you figure out another way to do the experiment.

If your teacher gives you guidelines for what you can use (how many pots or how many seeds you can use, etc.), it’s a good idea to let your mentor know that in an early post. That way they will know only to suggest things that will work with what you’ve got on hand.

The same thing goes for timing. If you know that you’ve got a week to come up with a project and three weeks to carry out the project, then let your mentor know that so that they don’t suggest you get started on a project that will take 6-8 weeks to complete.

What kind of posts help keep communication going?

It’s a good idea to ask for specific feedback or have specific questions for your mentor. Posts that explain your decision-making are also good. Asking “what do you think of our graph?“ is O.K., but asking “does our graph do the best job at showing how our flowering time was different between group A or B or is there something we can do to make it more clear?” can be even better.

Asking questions like “what should we do our project on?” or “what can you tell us about photosynthesis” are really hard for mentors to answer. Better questions would be, “Our team thought of three possible questions. We think the pros and cons are… Can you help us choose one?” Or, “we read an online article (here’s the link) that says…does that mean that for our project we might want to…? Do you know any other sites we should look at?”

Pictures of your experimental setup are helpful for your mentors to see. They might be able to make suggestions that will save you a lot of trouble in the long run if they can see what you’re working on before you get too far along.

What kinds of things will make our team look really good?

The best teams are featured on our home page. To be eligible to be featured you’ll need to make sure to upload information about your project, like the research question, research prediction, and experimental design. You also want to make sure you’ve uploaded a team picture, and it’s best if you upload some project data like journals, data files, final presentations, and/or images. Other than that, post often, keep your mentor informed about what’s going on, ask questions, be open to your mentor’s advice, stay on task, and be polite!

What is a good way to end a project?

It’s a good idea to post one last time to thank your mentor for their help and let them know that you have finished with the project and probably won’t be posting again. That way they’ll know that they don’t have to check the site anymore. If you have a chance to login again after that, you might want to do that to see if your mentor has left any final words for your team.


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NSF_Logo.jpg This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant #2010556 and #1502892. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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