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The Mentor’s Role

The Workforce Development & Education Office at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory runs several educational programs for college and university undergraduate students and faculty, teachers, and high school students. Though the financial support and administrative procedures for the programs may vary, and though the interns in the various programs may come from different locations and backgrounds, the basis of all of our undergraduate programs remains the same: students learn science best by doing science!

Even interns with the best academic preparation will arrive at LBNL unfamiliar with laboratory procedures and the real-world nature of scientific research. Let’s face it: a national laboratory is, in many ways, unlike any place in the world. The very things that make a research experience at LBNL such an attraction may be, at first, daunting and overwhelming to an undergraduate whose exposure to research has been limited to college classrooms and labs. To ease them into the research setting, it has been suggested that mentors provide their interns early on with the following:*

  • Orientation to the culture, protocol, and procedures for the laboratory—use of equipment; preparation of materials; locations of materials and supplies and how to access them; reporting and supervising structure; safety measures; dress and decorum; etc.
  • Opportunities to get to know and talk with other interns and researchers (especially grad students and post-docs) in the laboratory group.
  • Details on assignments—work to be done, time frame, expectations, work hours, etc.
  • Scheduled times to review performance and to give the mentor and the intern opportunities for feedback.

Responsibilities and Assignments

The online Mentor Preparation course –  EHS0039 – is required for mentors and must be taken every 2 years.

All interns, regardless of the administrative source of the program they are participating in are treated the same: we try to make sure they receive the same stipend and, mostly, they have the same assignments.

Mentors are required to be present the first week of the program.

Interns must have a designated work space, a computer and access to a Lab phone line.  Interns may not use personal laptops to do their research.


JHA: All interns must complete the Job Hazards Analysis with mentors via phone before they arrive at the lab.


  1. Work with your intern to delineate the project very clearly
  2. Determine the potential hazards associated with this project
  3. Determine the correct Work Group to mitigate these hazards


If you are an Owner of the JHA Work Group:

  1. Log on to JHA
  2. Select “My Work Groups”
  3. Select appropriate Work Group for intern
  4. Click on “View”
  5. Click on “Assign Members” tab
  6. Click on “Add” icon
  7. Type in intern’s name, and click on it when it appears in the search box
  8. Click “Save”

If you are not an Owner of the desired JHA Work Group, arrange with one of the Owners or your Division Safety Coordinator to add the intern to the work group.

Once this has been completed your intern can create a draft JHA. They will already be entered into the appropriate Work Group(s). This will populate the intern’s JHA appropriately and generate the correct training profile.


Mentors or day-to-day supervisors are to discuss the JHA with the intern, go over the questions and answers and complete the JHA before they arrive at the lab.

There are several EH&S roles involved with mentoring interns who participate in Workforce Development & Education programs:

Supervisor – Susan Brady Wells, Department Head of Workforce Development & Education is the Supervisor for all interns who participate in our programs.

Work Lead – Mentors are defined as “Work Leads” for all interns who participate in our programs. 

Please see Q&A provided by EHS regarding the roles of Supervisor and Work Lead below:

Q: What is a Work Lead?

A: A Work Lead is anyone who directs, trains, and/or oversees the work and activities of one or more Workers. Work Leads provide instruction on working safely and the precautions necessary to use equipment and facilities safely and effectively. Work Leads may authorize Work with the concurrence of the Worker’s Supervisor.

Q: How is a Work Lead different than a Supervisor?

A: Supervisory Employees are defined by the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act (HEERA) as "any individual, regardless of the job description or title, having authority in the interest of the employer to hire, transfer, suspend, lay off, recall, promote, discharge, assign, reward or discipline other employees, or responsibility to direct them, or to adjust their grievances, or to effectively recommend such action, if, in connection with the foregoing, the exercise of such authority is not of a merely routine or clerical nature, but requires the use of independent judgment. Employees whose duties are substantially similar to those of their subordinates shall not be considered to be supervisory employees."

Work Leads direct, train and/or oversee the Work and activities of the Worker. He/she is not necessarily that individual’s Supervisor (i.e., he/she may not have the additional authority to hire, transfer, suspend, or take other personnel actions). Put another way, a Supervisor always has the authority to act as the Work Lead, but a Work Lead does not necessarily have the authority to act as Supervisor.

Q: What are the responsibilities of a Work Lead?

A: Work Leads
    * Utilize the JHA process as a mechanism to authorize Work under their control when the tasks, locations, hazards, and controls have been properly analyzed.
    * Consult with new Workers, or Workers whose tasks have changed, to assure that their Work Authorizations accurately describe the tasks, hazards, and controls inherent in the Work.
    * Ensure that JHAs are updated annually or more frequently if required.
    * Stop authorized Work when hazards and controls change, and do not reinitiate Work until the Work Authorizations for all Workers performing that Work have been updated, and the required controls are in place.

EH&S MOU: The EH&S Memorandum of Understanding to be signed by the mentor, the intern, and the Workforce Development & Education supervisor. The MOU emphasizes the importance we all need to put on safe practices for interns. Note that all persons who may be supervising a intern and may be responsible for their safety in the workplace are to be designated on the form.


EHS-10: All interns must take EHS 10 – Introduction to Environment, Health, and Safety at LBNL.  This class is available online, interns may register to take the class as soon as LDAP and Passwords have been assigned to them.

Additional EH&S Classes: Once interns have taken the JHA and identified the additional EH&S training they will need, they can sign up for appropriate classes. Students already have assigned guest numbers, so if you want, you can sign up your student(s) now for classes that you know they need to take.

MENTOR EHS COURSE.  EHS-42 “Implementing Safety:  supervisors and Work Leads”, is now required for all Lab staff who will be engaged in mentoring, supervising, teaching, or guiding interns. If you or the person in your lab who will be working directly with the intern have not previously taken a Supervisor or Work Lead safety course (e.g., EHS-20, -26, -33, -34), please contact us immediately to arrange a session.

Intern Assignments

Eighty to ninety percent of the intern’s time is spent in the lab or workplace with their mentors, but there are program-centered assignments and responsibilities that need to be completed. 

The first two assignments are designed to help both the mentor and intern get started and establish expectations and guidelines.

Internship Work Plan: This is a short form to be completed and signed by the student and mentor and then returned to Workforce Development & Education. 
See Calendar for your Program:  BLUR, CCI, VFP, SULI

Research Proposal: Students are asked to write a short (2-3 page) paper that covers a) what the group is researching/working on, b) the significance of the work, and c) the student’s role.


Assignments near the end of the program are designed to have students “bring it all together” and communicate their work in a professional way.  Workforce Development & Education will provide some technical assistance and instruction for completing the assignments; mentors are expected to provide guidance and review and approve the student’s work.

Poster Session: All students prepare a technical poster based on their research work and exhibit at the undergraduate student poster session open to all Lab employees and guests.

Abstract: All students will prepare and submit an abstract.  For DOE Office of Science funded students, the abstracts will be published in the Journal of Undergraduate Research, so it must be approved by the mentor. 

Technical or Research Paper: All students, are required to prepare a technical (or research) paper based on the guidelines in the Office of Science Program Guidebook.
The papers will be reviewed for inclusion in the DOE Office of Science Journal of Undergraduate Research, and the authors of those published are invited to attend the AAAS meeting the following February (at DOE’s expense). This gives undergraduate students an opportunity for publication—the journal is considered an internal DOE publication and therefore should not preclude further publication in other journals. Professional guidance and a series of small group sessions are available for students to use this assignment to learn the valuable skill of writing.

Generally, mentors should give guidance to students as they prepare their assignments and review and approve the work before it is presented.  Certainly, a major role for mentors of undergraduate science students is to help prepare them for advanced laboratory research. But, also of major consequence is the mentor’s role in assisting the students in preparing for the career path that will lead to the students becoming research scientists in their own right.

Graduate School: As a result of their research experience at LBNL, many undergraduates will, for the first time, consider going to graduate school. Others will arrive with plans for grad school, but only a vague sense of how to prepare. Mentors can be invaluable resources for students by discussing how they can prepare themselves academically, what their options for graduate study are, how to find the graduate school departments that best match their interests, etc. introducing undergraduates to graduate students and post-docs in the department can be of immense importance.

Professional Development: Mentors can have a significant impact on the development of students as science professionals by giving them opportunities to observe and participate in staff and group meetings, research reviews, and conferences. [When opportunities arise for students to present their work at professional meetings, the Workforce Development & Education will help to fund the student’s attendance, within the limits of our budget]. When appropriate, students should be encouraged to become co-authors on papers reporting the group’s research.

Reality Checks: There are a number of factors that act as barriers to a student’s success. Two of the most common are over-confidence and lack of confidence (Paradoxically, these two factors can manifest themselves in the same student). It is the mentor’s role to be open and honest with the student, to set high standards and expectations for performance; to establish review criteria; and to regularly review what the student has accomplished. Students need both to be alerted to their deficiencies and given guidance on how to overcome them, and to have their abilities highlighted and be given advice on how to expand and capitalize on them.

* from Techniques for Effective Undergraduate Mentoring by Stephanie G. Adams and Howard G. Adams, National Center for Graduate Education for Minorities, 1993