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I'm an undergraduate student in CS and I want to nominate my graduate student mentor for a mentorship award at my university.

He has been my mentor for a year and a half and over that time he has helped me a lot. We have worked on a project and published a paper together. He has also helped me a lot with graduate school applications as well as applying for awards/fellowships/etc. Suffice to say, there is a lot that I can write for him.

However, I've never written a letter to anyone and I am not sure how to structure it. I've written a first draft, but I don't like it. Specifically:

  • It feels like I am just listing anecdotes. Is this right or should I try to craft an overall narrative? What would such a narrative even look like?

  • It feels like I'm spending time on my accomplishments. I'm trying to say something like "he helped me by doing X which resulted in me achieving Y." I want to focus on the X, but I feel like by even mentioning the Y I am taking away from X, but also I feel like mentioning Y helps validate X. For example if I said something like "Because of his help with ABCD, I have admitted into several top Ph.D. programs", does this make the letter stronger or does it just sound like I am bragging about myself?

More generally, what do these types of award committees look for? I want to make sure I emphasize the correct things in my letter.

2 Answers 2

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It feels like I am just listing anecdotes. Is this alright or should I try to craft an overall narrative. What would such a narrative even look like?

The overall narrative I've seen a lot is to frame it chronologically, recounting how your mentor's support furthered your development into a young researcher. This gives your letter a natural story arc that's easy to follow.

It feels I'm spending time on my accomplishments. I'm trying to say something like "he helped me by doing X which resulted in me achieving Y."

I've noticed that you use the word "help" a lot. It would read better if you can name specific things your mentor did. Did they teach you new skills? Give you good advice? Point out opportunities to you? If your university has some document on the duties or role of a mentor, read it and see what applies to your situation. If it doesn't, the internet may provide. You want to link the actions of your mentor to positive outcomes for you, while framing them more as guidance (instead of collaborative helping).

More generally, what do these types of award committees look for? I want to make sure I emphasize the correct things in my letter.

Firstly, try to find the award description- selection criteria can vary! Academia (and different cultures) vary a lot in what is expected from mentoring. The one such committee I was on wanted mentors who'd gone "above and beyond", holistically interpreted (i.e. we included pastoral care, which is not necessarily the norm).

Secondly, I presume you still have an academic supervisor, correct? If you're on friendly terms with them (or another member of academic staff), you could mention that you're nominating your grad student supervisor for the award, and ask if they have any pointers for you.

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    I like the chronological idea, but to that I would add that the first paragraph and the last paragraph should both be summaries of why the mentor deserves the award (and the award criterion matter a lot to these). Jan 27 at 21:50
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To add a bit to the answer of coffee_into_plots I'd suggest two things.

First, if possible, mention anything that the mentor has done that seems beyond the actual requirements of their job in relation to your learning.

Second, if possible, mention how the actions/tutoring/etc. of the mentor have increased your insight into your field as well as providing you a role model that you would like to follow.

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