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First Year Research Experience (FYRE) Support Guide for Research Coaches

Meeting with Students

Pod #1 in the Murray Library is now a dedicated, bookable space for Research Coaches to meet with FYRE students. 

Pod #1 is located on the first floor of the Murray Library directly behind the Research and ICT help desks. Pod 1 has a whiteboard, monitor, keyboard, and a table and chairs for four people.  Please note the maximum number of people in the pod at one time is four.

To book Pod 1, Research Coaches can complete this online request form.

NOTE: When Pod 1 is not in use, any student(s) is welcome to the space, but there will be signage to indicate the space is designated for the First Year Research Experience.  If there are students in the pod at your designated time, please simply ask them to leave as the pod has been booked.  FYRE students who are working collaboratively but independent of their Research Coach, are encouraged to book a group study room at the University Library.         

Scheduling Tools:
Finding a mutually agreeable time to meet with students can be challenging.  Using an online scheduling tool such as Doodle, can make everyone's life a bit easier. 

Meeting Online:
Often the most accessible way to meet with students is online. Zoom is the university's preferred platform for online meetings with students.

Working with Students

Research coaches guide and support students through the research cycle with the goal of strengthening student skills.  Effective research coaches balance comprehensive knowledge of a specific subject with a desire to help others, empathy, good communication, honesty, enthusiasm, and a sense of humour.

Students can feel vulnerable in asking for help. Though you may establish a peer-centred relationship based on trust and safety between student and research coach, you may be perceived as an authority figure. To avoid misusing your authority, and to avoid breaking that trust and sense of safety, be aware of the following responsibilities:

Special thanks to Liv Marken for allowing us to adapt her tutor training materials

As a university employee, you are aware of how your actions can reflect upon your colleagues and the institution. Acting professionally means showing respect toward staff, faculty, and students. Please abide by the following guidelines:
  • Avoid gossiping or making disparaging remarks about any person (professor, librarian, staff person, another student, etc.).
  • Respect the student and the fact that they came to learn. It may sometimes seem like you are not making progress, but avoid letting your frustration get the better of you. Be conscious of the verbal and non-verbal indications that you respect and can listen to a student.
  • Like at any other job, inoffensive language, and punctuality indicate professionalism and remove distracting barriers to communication.

Clear communication is necessary for a successful session where research coach and student feel as though they have been heard and have come to an understanding of the subject. Part of communicating clearly involves deploying signs of active listening, including smiling, eye contact, posture, mirroring, and refraining from looking distracted.

Remember to be patient. You may be ready to help students solve their academic problems, but for the student, feeling listened to and comfortable is often the first and most important step before beginning to tackle the assignment problem(s). Being an active listener will ensure that you first understand the student's problem as the student sees it, making your help more effective. 

Communicating clearly involves being honest and forthcoming about your role and limits as a research coach. Refer students to other services if you can’t help them yourself. For example, if a student needs help with Word or Excel, refer them to IT Help, or if a student is having difficulty with the writing process, refer them to the Writing Centre. If you aren’t sure where to refer someone, ask a Student Learning Services staff person, or search for the answer online.

As a research coach who was once or who is currently an undergrad, and as a peer, you are in an excellent place to understand students’ concerns. While you can’t assume that all students are going through what you went through, you use your experience to display empathy.

Showing empathy can be as simple as nodding when they’re complaining about workload, or saying, “it sounds like you're pretty frustrated” when students talk about how tough questions stress them out. Mirroring a student’s statements can help them to feel as though you are hearing them; for example, if a student says that they are having a hard time with an assignment, you might show that you’ve heard them by saying, “it sounds like you’re really concerned about this assignment.” Mirroring can emphasize your peer relationship and may increase student comfort in that it reassures the student that you're listening and trying to understand.

“Boundaries shape our relationships with students. They determine when we are available, where and why someone might see us. They set limits on how much support you might reasonably be expected to give" (University of Sheffield, “Setting Boundaries”)

Setting boundaries helps structure the relationship between research coach and learner and informs your students about what you can and cannot do in a coaching session. By sticking to these boundaries, you can be a better coach and avoid confusing the student.

Here are some strategies for setting and maintaining boundaries:

  • Limiting details about your personal life to academic examples, but avoiding naming names or courses, especially if they are cast in a critical light.
  • Being aware of the signals your verbal and non-verbal communication send (tone of voice, eye contact, negative language).
  • Being forthcoming about what you can and cannot accomplish in the session and in your role as a research coach
  • Stating your limits clearly (in a friendly tone, of course).
  • Avoiding exceptions. Inconsistent treatment of students can send the wrong message and make it more difficult to establish boundaries in the future.
  • Referring students, if what they’re asking for is beyond your expertise. Research coaches may do a lot of referral, especially to library services, writing help, tech help (ICT), assistive technology via Access and Equity Services, Campus Wellness, the Language Centre, and to study skills programming at Student Learning Services in the Library. In addition, coaches often look up information with the student beside them, thereby modeling how to find (online or in physical resources) the information about campus services and/or resources specific to the topic at hand.

Setting and maintaining boundaries will help you and the student to avoid the frustration that comes from a misunderstanding of roles.

Privacy / Confidentiality
Students have an expectation of, and a right to, privacy when they come to you for help. Sometimes it takes courage and an expectation of trust for them to seek help in the first place. Therefore, you shouldn’t discuss students by name with faculty, instructors, teaching assistants, tutorial leaders, lab instructors, or other students, unless the student gives you permission. Also, make sure to keep any data or papers with students’ information on them in a secure location where other people cannot look at them.

Ethical Guidelines
Below are some ethical guidelines to abide by for research coaches.

Please do not:

  • Complete students' assignments/homework/papers for them.
  • Make disparaging comments about a coworker, instructor, professor, supervisor, librarian, or another student.
  • Thoroughly edit, write, or complete assignments for students.
  • Make advances toward students or touch them, even casually (touching an arm, hugging, and so on).
  • Socialize with students outside of class time.
  • Name-call or otherwise talk down to your students.
  • Use sarcasm and other forms of easily misunderstood or negative humour.
  • Accuse students of plagiarizing or otherwise cheating. They are not handing the work in; they've come to learn. Teach them about academic honesty by approaching issues one at a time, and do not use fear-mongering.
  • Swear or curse.
  • Say anything to make a student think that they cannot expect your confidentiality.


Some students new to university may not be familiar with the ways to best approach their professors.  The handout "Communicating with Your Professor", specifically the section, How to write email messages to your professors (page 2) provides specific advice on how to draft an email.