We have been mentoring students for decades in undergraduate research and have always been curious about ways to enhance our craft as mentors and co-mentors. In our work we have realized the value of the Salient Practices Framework for Undergraduate Research Mentoring (Shanahan et al. 2015) in helping provide the necessary support (e.g., informational, emotional, etc.) for students. However, more recently we have been thinking about the importance of this framework and how it supports mental health in our students. When thinking about mental health, we fully embrace the definition set forth by the World Health Organization (2018):

Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.

Please note that mental health is not synonymous with mental illness. Mental health should be viewed from a positive, strengths-based lens and not from one of weakness, as can be seen from the WHO definition above. One public health, research-based model for helping people become more mentally healthy is Act-Belong-Commit, which was created in Western Australia (Donovan and Anwar-McHenry 2014). Our institution has adopted this framework to help increase the mental health of our community. Act-Belong-Commit provides an excellent, simple (what is more basic than “ABC”?) model that can be applied to undergraduate research. In this model, Act translates to staying active (e.g., physical, spiritual, social). Belong refers to staying connected to friends, family, and others through your activities. Commit requires people to do activities that are meaningful to them. In the table below, you can see how we envision that undergraduate research can be used to help promote mental health if framed in the right way for our students.

Act Do something Engage in Undergraduate Research
Belong Do something with someone Build community amongst scholars – through lab or other UR students
Commit Do something meaningful Present and publish research results; learn skills that will translate to future graduate schools and jobs
Act-Belong-Commit in Action through Undergraduate Research

Model showing the 10 salient practices of undergraduate mentoring fitted onto the three stages of Act-Belong-Commit
Salient Practices as a Vehicle for Mental Health

Salient Practices and Act-Belong-Commit

Act: Do something is exemplified by practices mentors often engage in early in the research process and include pre-planning, scaffolding expectations, and teaching technical skills (Salient Practices 1-3). Engaging students in the “what” and “how” of research allows them to begin to play in the research arena. They start to learn what the research process includes and see that they can gain skills by doing literature searches, identifying feasible methodologies, and coming to mentoring meetings with ideas and questions. It is exciting both for mentors and mentees to see the possibilities when they gain the skills of how to engage. These practices really give students things to do as they continue their research journey. They become the habits of the research process. One potential place that  “Act” can be developed or inspired is through course-based undergraduate research experiences (Hensel 2018). These experiences are viewed as a potential way to increase participation and access to undergraduate research, but the level of mentorship provided in these courses varies greatly (Longmire-Avital 2018a) and should be taken into consideration when developing them (Longmire-Avital 2018b).

Belong: Do something with someone is integral to the research process as the mentoring relationship progresses and students spend time in question development and data collection. Excellent mentors work to balance rigor and support (SP4), dedicate time to one-on-one mentoring (SP6), and support opportunities to build community among research students in their lab, program, and institution (SP5). Often in a lab or apprentice model, mentors are intentionally identifying places for more experienced students to mentor less experienced students (SP9). These practices, while intended to progress the research and give students agency, also provide space to be a part of a community of scholars. Intentional co-mentoring of students can also help expand the network and provide opportunities to learn from multiple faculty members (Hall et al. 2021)

Commit: Do something meaningful is often where students describe this work as important to their college experience and where they are headed after (e.g., graduate school, professional school). They have been progressively gaining ownership of their projects (SP7); they have been engaging in professional opportunities (SP8) like grant-writing workshops, meeting with alumni, and networking with the contacts of their mentors; and they have been finding venues to disseminate their work, either in presentation or publication form (SP10). Students who find deep purpose and meaning in their research begin to see themselves as colleagues and understand their potential to thrive and flourish in this setting. The confidence they gain prepares them for applying to graduate programs, funding agencies, and jobs. They can often clearly articulate the skills they learned and how these skills translate to their continued personal and professional development. For a class assignment, one current student recently wrote the following about how she saw her undergraduate research within the ABC model:

I think that I see this as Commit because it is something that is very meaningful to me. I think that my topic and study is very relevant to my life and I think that gaining a deeper understanding will be beneficial for many students. It is also a commitment to my future patients as I am gaining teamwork, communication, and clinical skills that will benefit me as a physician.

Grace Holmes, Class of 2022; aspiring medical student (mentored by Dr. Simon Higgins)

We encourage educators and mentors to consider the ABC framework and Salient Practice model in their work and mentoring relationships. Recent research has found that social activities (Nielsen et al. 2021) and challenging activities (Santini et al. 2021) are important for mental health; undergraduate research can be both of these. We also are confident that higher education professionals and faculty will see the utility in their own personal and professional development. After all, the greatest value of mentoring and working with young people is our eternal joy in the process of learning, and we all can work to positively improve our mental health and work-life balance no matter our roles and responsibilities. 


Donovan, Robert J., and Julia Anwar-McHenry. 2014. “Act-Belong-Commit.” American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine. https://doi/10.1177/1559827614536846.

Hall, Eric, Elizabeth Bailey, Simon Higgins, Caroline Ketcham, Svetlana Nepocatych, and Matthew Wittstein. 2021. “Application of the Salient Practices Framework for Undergraduate Research Mentoring in Virtual Environments.” Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education. https://doi/10.1128/jmbe.v22i1.2287.

Hensel, Nancy, ed. 2018. Course-Based Undergraduate Research: Educational Equity and High-Impact Practice. Stylus Publishing. https://styluspub.presswarehouse.com/browse/book/9781620367803/Course-Based-Undergraduate-Research.

Longmire-Avital, Buffie. 2018a. “Reflecting on Course-Based Undergraduate Research (CUREs).” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), October 25, 2018. https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/reflecting-on-course-based-undergraduate-research-cures/.

Longmire-Avital, Buffie. 2018b. “The Art of Crafting a Mentored CURE.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), November 15, 2018. https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/the-art-of-crafting-a-mentored-cure/.

Nielsen, Line, Carsten Hinrichsen, Katrine Rich Madsen, Malene Kubstrup Nelausen, Charlotte Meilstrup, Ai Koyanagi, Vibeke Koushede, and Ziggi Ivan Santini. 2021. “Participation in Social Leisure Activities May Benefit Mental Health Particularly among Individuals That Lack Social Connectedness at Work or School.” Mental Health and Social Inclusion ahead-of-print. https://doi/10.1108/MHSI-06-2021-0026/.

Santini, Ziggi Ivan, Vibeke Koushede, Carsten Hinrichsen, Malene Kubstrup Nelausen, Katrine Rich Madsen, Charlotte Meilstrup, Ai Koyanagi, and Line Nielsen. 2021. “Challenging Leisure Activities and Mental Health: Are They More Beneficial for Some People than for Others?” Mental Health and Social Inclusion (ahead-of-print). https://doi/10.1108/MHSI-06-2021-0033.

Shanahan, Jenny Olin, Elizabeth Ackley-Holbrook, Eric Hall, Kearsley Stewart, and Helen Walkington. 2015. “Ten Salient Practices of Undergraduate Research Mentors: A Review of the Literature.” Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning 23 (5): 359–76. https://doi/10.1080/13611267.2015.1126162.

World Health Organization. 2018. “Mental Health: Strengthening Our Response.” March 30, 2018. https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response.

Eric Hall is a professor of exercise science at Elon University, served as the inaugural CEL Senior Scholar, and co-leads the 2020-2023 research seminar on (Re)Examining Conditions for Meaningful Learning Experiences.

Caroline Ketcham, Professor of Exercise Science, is the 2021-2023 Center for Engaged Learning Scholar. Dr. Ketcham’s CEL scholar project focuses on equity in high-impact practices (HIPs) for neurodiverse and physically disabled student populations.

How to cite this post

Hall, Eric E., and Caroline J. Ketcham. (2021, November 2). “Mentoring with Mental Health in Mind.” [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.centerforengagedlearning.org/mentoring-with-mental-health-in-mind