Campbell-Lom mentoring model

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The Campbell-Lom mentoring model is a simple e-mail mechanism to enhance reflection, independence, and communication in young researchers. (Note: Our name of the model - Daniel K. Schneider, the authors call it five questions method).

The aim of this model is to promote higher levels of thinking necessary for successful research.

See also: Metacognition, Self-regulation, Self-directed learning, mentoring.

The model

To enhance communication, comprehension, reflection, and independence among undergraduate research students, Campbell and Lom (2006) developed a simple mechanism. On a regular basis, they ask their research students to answer these short questions via e-mail:

Question 1 - How have you spent your time?
  • Stimulates students to document their progress.
  • Mentor can evaluate student participation and efficiency.
  • Can also help the mentor and student identify any issues with efficiency, time management, and research priorities that may arise.
Question 2 - What do you know? (what did you learn recently)
  • Also stimulates students to document their progress.
  • this question sets an upbeat tone and helps them document new lessons learned since their last entry.
  • helps both students and mentors appreciate the intellectual gains students are making as they go through the research process.
Question 3 - What don't you know?
  • Encourage students to identify gaps in their knowledge and ways to fill in those gaps (see also next question)
  • By explicitly encouraging students to define the specific gaps in their knowledge, students are helped acknowledge and approach their uncertainty in a way that encourages them to communicate and problem solve.
  • A first step for students learning to take charge of their own education, think independently, and develop problem-solving strategies.
Question 4 - How can you find out what you don't know?
  • Encourage students to identify gaps in their knowledge and ways to fill in those gaps
  • Identifies critical areas where the mentor may have inadvertently assumed knowledge that the students do not yet have, where students misunderstood important information, or where expectations may have been unclear.
Question 5 - What are your frustrations?
  • Allows students to identify and share any roadblocks they encounter in their research and learning.
  • Opens the door for students and mentors to address personal problems related to lab research. This is important since failures of interpersonal communication can result in situations that reduce the efficiency with which the laboratory operates

Practical issues


“Principal investigators typically are busy people with responsibilities that extend far beyond supervising new students in their labs. Consequently, our five-question approach may sound like more busywork that will add to e-mail accounts that are already overwhelming. However, the time commitment of our approach is minimal and the payoff substantial, even time saving, for student learning and meeting our research goals.” (Campbell & Lom, 2006).


According to the authors, “a once-a-week e-mail works well for independent study or group investigation research courses during the academic year. For full-time summer research students, daily answers combined into one week-long document submitted Friday afternoons works very well”.


This 'five questions' method was piloted during the summer of 2005 with four research students. During the 2005-2006 academic year, Campbell and Lom used these questions in two group investigation courses.

“The five-question e-mails revealed many important issues that could be addressed easily during the lab meeting such as allocation of research time, clarifying research objectives, assigning research tasks, scheduling training times, and addressing conceptual questions. Any lingering or individual questions were addressed by e-mail or in person. At the end of the semester, students commented favorably on anonymous evaluation sheets that asked if the weekly e-mail assignment helped them reflect on what they were learning and communicate with the instructor.” (Campbell & Lom, 2006).


Main reference
  • Campbell A. Malcolm and Barbara Lom (2006). A Simple E-Mail Mechanism To Enhance Reflection, Independence, and Communication in Young Researchers, CBE Life Sci Educ. 2006 Winter; 5(4): 318-322. doi: 10.1187/cbe.06-06-0170 Abstract/HTML/PDF
Some references used by Campbell and Lom
  • Blank L. A metacognitive learning cycle: a better warranty for student understanding? Science Educ. 2000;84:486-506.
  • King, P. M.; Kitchener, K. S. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass; 1994. Developing Reflective Judgment: Understanding and Promoting Intellectual Growth and Critical Thinking in Adolescents and Adults. Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series and Jossey-Bass Social and Behavioral Science Series.
  • Pfund C., Pribbenow C. M., Branchaw J., Lauffer S. M., Handelsman J. The merits of training mentors. Science. 2006;311:473-474. Abstract/PDF
  • Smith C. D., Whiteley H. E., Smith S. Using email for teaching. Computers Educ. 1999;33(1):15-25.
  • Tobias, S. Tucson, AZ: Research Corporation; 1992. Revitalizing Undergraduate Science: Why Some Things Work and Most Don't.
  • Yu, F.-y.; Yu, H.-J.J. Incorporating e-mail into the learning process: its impact on student academic achievement and attitudes. Computers Educ. 2002;38(1-3):117-126.