Welcoming new students
At the start of every new academic year the mentor team deliver a welcome talk. The talk helps new research students get used to their new environment inside and outside of the university.
The talk is delivered by a mentor and covers the basic concept of the mentoring scheme and explains who to turn to in case of problems which are not covered by the supervisor's duties.
The talk also and discusses life in Manchester, the university and the school, different research groups, and the relationship between student, supervisor and advisor.
What mentoring is and what it is not
Mentors are always there to listen to the questions but cannot guarantee to be able to answer them. Mentors may have to refer mentees to an academic member of staff or a trained professional (counsellor), etc. Mentors cannot be your new best friend if you don't have friends (well, don't take this literally). Mentors cannot get you a job.
What mentoring is depends a lot on the individual mentor. A good rule is not to give out your private contact number, only the departmental. Read all available documentation (and go to the GSSEM course) to decide what you consider acceptable topics.
Life in Europe and in Manchester
The UK is a very western country. The way of life here might puzzle some foreign students, and mentors can explain how to deal with everyday situations. (No need to go into detail but let the students know that they can ask the mentors about this.)
Manchester has a reputation as being quite rainy, and Moss Side is (in)famous for its riots in the 60ies (I think). . . but it is also the capital of the north, northern centre of the arts (including museums, theatres, opera, cinema), has brilliant night-life, active gay culture, the best University in the North-West, the CAMRA National Winter Ale Festival takes place every January/February in Manchester (this could be a fun trip for a mentoring social event), brand new sports facilities, Peak District nearby and Lake District not much further, London only 2 1/2 hrs away by train, etc.
Finding a Flat
Manchester has some quite unsafe areas. Safe areas are expensive though. Manchester Student Homes is a University-run database of private houses and flats and located in the precinct centre; otherwise the University accommodation office manages the University halls of residence.
Life at the University
Western professional environment (women have equal rights). Dutyoffice is there to deal with most problems that new student encounter: password, email, software installation, hardware upgrade (supervisor needs to provide account number when new hardware is to be bought). Both Unix and Windows available. Excellent library (John Rylands), and small departmental library (for how much longer?). To earn some pocket-money, people can become lab-assistant; this is not enough to live on, unless one gets a TA position! Janet Boyd is our postgraduate secretary and extremely competent-always be nice to her, and she'll always be nice to you.
The research groups
The research group is going to be each student's new academic family in Manchester. They should try to integrate, talk to people, especially their fellow students who know a lot about the research group life/social rules. The academic knowledge in the working group cannot be equalled by any amount of reading and research, and talking to peers is motivating and opens new ideas. It might also be useful for the future career. At first finding contact is hard, especially in the UK; this has nothing to do with the students (who may be used to a more sociable environment?).
The supervisor is the main influence on your work, particularly at the begining. Getting along with him is very much a matter of character, but some aspects can be rationalised, and the book "How to get a PhD" (Phillips and Pugh 1994). After a while you'll know more about your area of research than your supervisor. You may even have moved on to an area of research that is so different to that of your supervisor, that a change of supervisor may be recommended. This can be very unproblematic and dealt with diplomatically.