The Biology Undergraduate (B.U.G.) Mentorship Program offers guidance for biology students interested in pursuing further education after their undergraduate degree. Organized by Jillian McGroarty, a current biology master’s student, this program matches undergraduates to graduate student mentors from various disciplines. Through this program, students are offered the chance to apply to graduate school while receiving insight into the day-to-day activities and practical skills; not covered in typical academic advising.
Jillian says that she benefited from having a mentor as an undergraduate student at the University of Guelph in a similar program. “I was paired up with a Master’s student, and I got a lot of out the program. I wasn’t really sure about my options after undergrad, and did not know the logistics of applying to grad schools. When my mentor encouraged me to do my honours thesis, I met my supervisor and got the chance to do some field work and write my thesis at their lab. The references they provided also helped me in my application to grad school.” When she started her studies at Memorial University, Jillian wanted to arrange a similar mentorship program to give students here the same advantage. “When I came to Memorial, I was interested in paying it forward by doing something similar, and making connections with undergrads. It can be really hard to bridge the gap between undergraduate and graduate students, so I wanted to make a way for the department to be more collaborative.” With the help of her supervisor and other biology department members, Jillian started the mentorship program by reaching out to potential graduate mentors and advertising the program in undergraduate classes and labs.
Undergraduate students can apply to be matched with a mentor using a simple online form, which allows them to specify their study interests and expectations of the mentor. The agreement form for mentors and mentees also helps them schedule meetings according to their preferences, decide relevant topics for discussion, and define their goals for the program. Students have the option of remaining with the same mentor for multiple semesters to build a long-term connection.
Although most mentors are graduate students, undergrads who are unsure about pursuing grad school can benefit from the program. According to Jillian, “The main goal is to help undergrads have some reassurance about their options after completing their degree. It doesn’t have to be grad school—although most of our mentors are grad students, many of them have work and volunteer experience, as well as knowledge about applications for jobs and scholarships.” The B.U.G. Mentorship program also offers grad students the chance to guide other students. As she notes, “It is a great way for mentors to get some leadership experience and take on this type of responsibility. Opportunities like this can be lacking in academia.” Besides building mentor-mentee relationships, Jillian also hopes to organize social events so that students can meet and connect with faculty members.
The transition from undergraduate to graduate studies can be difficult. “The process of applying to grad school can be daunting. Besides this, the day-to-day of being a grad student— competing a thesis-based program and conducting research— is very different from an undergraduate degree. It involves a lot of independent work, which undergrads often don’t get to learn,” Jillian says. “Mentees can learn many hard skills from this program like using R, doing field work, lab techniques, writing scholarship applications and reading scientific literature. They will also be able to learn some soft skills by networking and connecting with other students and professors.”
Graduate student mentors involved in the program are studying in various fields, including ecology, evolution, ocean sciences, marine biology, cognitive and behavioural ecology, biochemistry, microbiology and medicine. Undergraduate students who are unsure of their future study plans can still use this program to learn research skills and build relationships. The program is currently underway for the winter semester cohort. It will be open for applications at the beginning of the fall semester.