Academic journal article Education

Perspectives on Peer-Mentoring from Taiwanese Science and Engineering Master's Students

Academic journal article Education

Perspectives on Peer-Mentoring from Taiwanese Science and Engineering Master's Students

Article excerpt

Over the last 15 years, the number of graduate students in Taiwan has increased almost five-fold from 45,000 to nearly 220,000 (Ministry of Education, 2014). Forty-six percent of these graduate students study in the fields of science and engineering (Ministry of Education, 2014). A similar trend of an increasing number of graduate students exists worldwide. Wang (2008) has highlighted this significant development in higher education, including the increasing number of graduate students in the USA and the UK. The graduate student numbers in Korea have increased from 97,000 in 1992 to 260,000 in 2002; the number of graduate students in Japan has grown from about 179,000 in 1998 to 250,000 in 2010 (Wang, 2008). In China, the number of graduate students has grown from 30,000 in 1985 to 1,000,000 in 2005 (Wang, 2008). This rapid growth in graduate student numbers offers the potential threat of a shortage of advisors for academic instruction worldwide.

Due to this rapid growth, thesis advisors must often mentor more than one or two graduate students. This often increases their advising workload significantly, diminishing the time they can devote to each student. According to the criteria set by the Ministry of Education n Taiwan, a student-teacher ratio among graduate schools should not be higher than 15. In fact, quite a certain amount of graduate schools in Taiwan cannot provide enough faculty to provide instructions to graduate students. Some professors have utilized peer-mentoring as a solution to alleviate their workload and stress from instructing graduate students in the laboratory/team directly.

Given most science and engineering students work closely with their laboratory colleagues, some advisors have turned to their doctoral (or post-doctoral) advisees to provide support to their master's students. It is hoped master's students will follow their peer-mentors' advice, fostering their academic development. While peer-mentoring is not a new concept, studies on peer-mentoring in Taiwan have been in paucity. Existing research in Taiwan has mainly focused on traditional mentoring relationships between professors/advisors and students/advisees in graduate institutions (e.g., Tsai & Chen, 2012; Wu, 2007).

The dearth of research on peer-mentorship in graduate schools of Taiwan poses two important questions: (1) how well the needs of graduate students, especially master's students, in peer-mentoring relationships are met; and (2) whether the graduate students, particularly in research-oriented universities, are able to cope with tremendous pressure to reach the high academic standards. Therefore, this study intends to make some "headway" in exploring the peer-mentoring experiences of Taiwanese science and engineering master's students, particularly from the mentees' perspective. It is hoped that the findings of this study may serve as the impetus for further inquiry, and provide a foundation for reviewing the current practices in peer-mentoring.

Peer-mentoring

Peer-mentoring involves an intentional one-on-one relationship at an institution between two members of the same level or similar levels where the more experienced member provides support and teaches new knowledge and skills to the less experienced member (Ensher,. Thomas, & Murphy, 2001). The dyad is typically close in age and hierarchical levels, have a commonality of experience, and have relationships of longer duration (Kram & Isabella, 1985).

Peer-mentors can perform some of the same functions as traditional mentors, such as information sharing, job-related feedback, confirmation, emotional support, personal feedback, and friendship (Kram & Isabella, 1985), as well as psychosocial support and career- or job-related support (Young & Perrewe, 2004). The primary difference between peer-mentoring and traditional mentoring is the level of experience and power the mentors exercise (Bryant & Terborg, 2008). …

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