Introduction

“Through faculty mentoringfaculty members share experiences, expertise, and advice on research, teaching, and other professional concerns with less experienced colleagues. … Mentors may serve as guides to the institution and its culture, research advisors, teaching resources, or role models.”

University of Michigan/Dearborn Faculty Senate
Faculty Mentoring

Benefits

Just as it is important to mentor graduate students, it is also important to mentor junior faculty. Mentoring junior faculty has been found to benefit the faculty members involved in the mentoring relationship, as well as the sponsoring institution, by creating an inclusive and supportive scholarly community in which all faculty can thrive. For mentees, mentoring is associated with professional development, leading to greater productivity, career success, and satisfaction, and Improved research and teaching skills. Specifically, junior faculty who have been mentored publish more, receive more grants, have greater success attaining promotions, and have higher feelings of being knowledgeable and fitting into a department and lower feelings of stress and isolation.

Mentors also benefit from the mentoring relationship. They gain not only the satisfaction of having helped colleagues feel comfortable and succeed in a new environment, but also opportunities to increase their own networks and enhance their personal and professional growth and renewal. They are exposed to new ideas and perspectives and may find new scholarly interests and collaborations.

Because mentoring  increases collaboration, collegiality, commitment, and cohesion among faculty and creates stronger professional relationships within a program or department, it is crucial for retention of junior faculty. By increasing retention rates, mentoring assures stability and continuity in a program and enhances a school’s reputation as a desirable place to work.  In addition to creating a more positive organizational climate, mentoring can help an organization attain its diversity, equity, and inclusion values.

General Principles and Procedures

Mentoring is best accomplished when it is viewed as the responsibility of the entire program or department. Although mentoring is important for faculty at all stages of their career, the emphasis should be on junior faculty who are new to the school and learning the norms, expectations, and requirements. This mentoring can be both formal and informal and should be the responsibility of all senior faculty members, the program director, and the dean, who can collectively create a climate of mentoring in a program.

As soon as a candidate accepts a position, the program director or dean, working with the new faculty member and program’s senior faculty, should develop a mentoring plan that focuses on teaching, student supervision, research, and service responsibilities. Additionally, attention should be given to creating a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere (e.g., ensuring that when there are program events, new faculty members are invited and welcomed and that the new faculty member is included in all relevant distribution lists). It may also mean that program directors and deans support opportunities for new faculty to work with senior colleagues (e.g., collaborative teaching and research).​​​​​​​

Once a mentorship plan has been established, mentors and mentees should be encourage to (a) begin meeting  as soon as the new employee accepts the offer, (b) create a regular meeting schedule, (c) discuss the topics they would like to cover, (d) establish clear, shared expectations for the relationship, including time commitment and confidentiality, and (e) Institute clear communication and evaluation protocols.

New faculty members should have the opportunity to at least once a year review formally with the program director or dean their teaching, research, and service in relation to their progress towards contract renewal and promotion. These reviews should address areas of strength and areas for improvement in the faculty member’s teaching, research, advising, and service and should include suggestions about goals and strategies for improvement. The aim of these reviews is to communicate clearly the requirements for retention and promotion and to help candidates meet those requirements.

Program directors and deans should recognize that faculty from underrepresented groups may face special challenges in receiving the kinds of informal mentoring that both help their careers and make them feel comfortable in the program and school. In such instances, the program director or dean may wish to seek mentoring resources from outside the program. Additionally, the program should pay particular attention to ensure that faculty behavior in both formal and informal settings is fully inclusive and respectful of such faculty members and of their scholarly interests.

Role of Mentor

A senior faculty member who mentors a junior faculty member can asssume a large variety of responsibilities. These can include aspects of both instrumental to emotional support. The specifics depend on the individuals involved  as well as on the parameters established by the institution. Specific functions of mentors include the following:

  • Educating about program, school, and university resources and policies
    • ​​​​​​​Administrative and academic structure
    • Joint governance process
    • Staff and their roles
    • Important documents (e.g., handbooks and catalog)
    • Sources and availability of resources
  • Providing information and insight about both the explicit and implicit norms and expectations of the program and school
  • Explaining the formal policies and procedures, including deadlines, and answering questions when there is unclarity or confusion
  • Helping to problem solve when difficulties arise (e.g., reviewing problematic teaching evaluations or advising on managing conflict with other faculty members or administrators)
  • Helping to develop and improve essential skills (e.g., giving presentations, supervising teaching assistants, and managing classroom dynamics)
  • Discussing career goals and strategies for attaining them
    • ​​​​​​​Short, middle, and long-term professional goals and specific ways to balance demands of workload
    • Steps in career development (e.g., attending conferences, applying for grants, forming research groups, and identifying possible collaborators)
    • Expectations for annual evaluations and contract reviews
    • Requirements and timeline for seeking promotion
    • Honest and constructive feedback and advice related to performance
  • Finding technical and financial support and resources
  • Discussing research/scholarship
    • ​​​​​​​Brainstorm ideas
    • Read and provide feedback on drafts
    • Suggest places to publish or present
    • Recommend possible sources of funding or other resources
  • Helping to network
    • ​​​​​​​Suggest possible internal and external collaborators
    • Introducing to colleagues in the program or school and other people working in areas of interest
    • Encourage participation in university events and activities
    • Link to other potential mentors
  • Sharing teaching resources and ideas
    • ​​​​​​​Syllabi and reading lists
    • Handouts for courses or advisee
    • Pedagogical strategies (e.g., active learning techniques, ideas for leading discussions and planning lectures)
    • Course selection (e.g., required vs. electives, lectures vs. seminars, introductory vs. advanced)
    • School policies (e.g., academic dishonesty policies, exam regulations, and grading expectations)
  • Discussing student advising and supervision
    • ​​​​​​​Choosing students with whom to work
    • Effective strategies for working with research mentees
    • Techniques for advising and mentoring students
    • Supervising student assistants
  • Considering service activities
    • ​​​​​​​Choosing service committees at program, college, and university levels
    • Volunteering to do extra work for the program (e.g., serving on task forces or search committees)
    • Assuming administrative duties
    • Doing service outside the university for the profession or the community
  • Advocating
    • ​​​​​​​Nominate for awards
    • Recommend for high profile speaking opportunities (e.g., international conferences)
    • Include in high profile events and activities (e.g., for leadership positions in professional organizations or for article in special issues of journals)
    • Protect from exploitation (i.e., help mentee avoid being taken advantage of or overloaded)
    • Advise on negotiating and setting limits
  • Providing encouragement and support
    • ​​​​​​​Be available, present, open, and listen actively
    • Establish a positive and nonjudgmental atmosphere
    • Share personal examples
    • Provide perspective
    • Hold reasonable expectations
    • Give constructive feedback
    • Nurture self-sufficiency
    • Celebrate successes
    • Keep discussions confidential
  • Discussing navigating work-life demands
    • ​​​​​​​Prioritizing and balancing demands of faculty role
    • Quality of life issues (e.g., health, parent or child care, dual careers, work/family balance)
    • Time management strategies
  • Providing information or sources for information on personnel policies (e.g., family leave, dispute resolution, and grievances or complaints).

Role of Mentee

In order to succeed, early career faculty must take active control of their career, which includes being intentional and proactive about forming and managing mentoring relationships. Tips for using the mentoring relationship effectively include the following:

  • Show initiative in career planning: write a personal statement about your educational philosophy.
  • Develop short, medium, and long term career goals to discuss with you mentor.
  • Make your needs and expectations for the relationship clear.
  • Find out about, and take advantage of, opportunities for learning about how the program, school, and university operate.
  • Make your scheduled meetings with your mentor a priority and take advantage of e-mail and the telephone to keep in touch informally.
  • Set an agenda for each meeting.
  • Be willing to ask questions and ask for help.
  • Ask for advice and seriously consider it; be open to other perspectives.
  • Keep a file documenting  your professional activities.
  •  Keep your mentor apprised of progress and difficulties in attaining goals.
  •  Begin assembling a group of supporters and advisors in the wider university community.
  • Make and maintain contacts with other junior faculty, within your program as well as in other departments and schools.
  • Become familiar with and take advantage of the resources available to support and strengthen your teaching and research skills.
  • Assemble a library of information about your institution, school, and department (e.g., the latest strategic plan, your program’s handbook, the university catalog).
  • Provide feedback to your mentor.
  • Set a meeting with your program director or dean to discuss departmental expectations for retention and promotion.

Mentoring Models

Traditionally, mentoring has involved one senior faculty member and one junior faculty member who connect either informally or formally through a sponsored mentoring program. However, there are other models for mentoring, some of which involve multiple mentors, peers, or combinations of different types of mentoring relationships. Because some faculty may not feel comfortable acting as a mentor or may not possess the interpersonal skills necessary for successful mentoring, the program director or dean  must monitor all mentoring arrangements to be sure they are successful.  Following are some examples of mentoring models:

  1. Formal or Classic Mentoring: one-on-one mentoring that pairs a senior faculty member with a junior faculty mentor, usually from the same program, for a specified time. This type of mentoring has been found to have positive outcomes for junior faculty and, indirectly, for the entire program. It ensures that mentees receive information on program and discipline specific norms and expectations. However, mentees may be reluctant to speak candidly to a senior faculty member in their program or may not find a good fit within their program. Because they do not have access to broader networks, both inside and outside of the university, if the mentoring relationship fails, the junior faculty member does not receive the needed aid.
  2. Informal Mentoring: voluntary mentoring relationships that are not assigned but rather are developed spontaneously. Informal mentoring tends to be more egalitarian, lasts longer, and occurs with greater frequency than formal mentoring. The interactions are broader ranging and allow for greater flexibility. However, many programs do not have strong mentoring cultures that naturally lead to informal mentoring. Additionally, because having a faculty mentor is not guaranteed, faculty most in need of mentoring may be the least likely to find an informal mentor. Because mentors tend to gravitate toward younger versions of themselves, groups historically underrepresented in academia may be informally mentored less frequently, thereby perpetuating inequities.
  3. Peer Mentoring: faculty members at similar career stages, from either the same or different departments, develop supportive networks. They meet regularly to discuss the issues and challenges they face, as well as to share advice, information, and strategies. This type or mentoring  also addresses psychosocial needs, increases collegiality, and reduces isolation. Peer mentoring ensures mentoring occurs even with unbalanced numbers of junior and senior faculty, and it allows participants to be exposed to a range of opinions, advice, and perspectives rather than relying on the views of one mentor. Peers confronting similar issues may be better suited to give practical advice since they are likely have recent experience with similar issues. Because peer mentoring doesn’t rely on being chosen as a mentee, it offers some balance for faculty from historically underrepresented groups and ensures equal access to mentoring. However, because peers have not experienced all levels of the university, this type of mentoring cannot address all aspects of a faculty career or in-depth discipline-specific information. Also, different programs may have different norms and expectations, and having a range of mentors may lead to confusion.
  4. Group or Team Mentoring: senior faculty members serve as mentors for a group of junior mentees who meet regularly as a team. The group members may be from one or several programs. Regular meetings are most effective when given a discussion topic or a speaker/panel is arranged. Meetings should include both structured and informal discussions. This type of mentoring has many of the same advantages as peer mentoring, but with the added bonus of a senior mentor who can provide advice on topics beyond those that could be discussed with peers.  Additionally, it can also maximize the impact of excellent mentors, and mentees can learn from each other. However, because of group size, scheduling and having everyone attend all meetings may be difficult. Furthermore, mentors from different disciplines and programs may provide inconsistent or even conflicting advice and information.
  5. Committee  or cluster mentoring: a group of experienced faculty members within a program or department provides guidance to each junior faculty member, meeting with the mentee individually or as a group. The group of mentors are chosen to reflect the mentee’s interests and needs and are prepared to advise and assist with a range of topics. The mentee can benefit from the diversity of expertise and experience as well as have more opportunities for individual contacts. Problems may arise if there are conflicting views within the group.
  6. E-Mentoring: some national academic mentor networks been have formed in which individuals find mentors and correspond by e-mail. Typically these organizations have a membership fee. Such e-mentoring may also be found through some professional societies and organizations. Similar mentoring programs could be formed across campuses within the university, even on an informal basis.  Establishing these mentoring relationships is more difficult for faculty members from underrepresented groups, who may not have the same access to existing networks. Additionally, these groups cannot provide information or advice specific to the mentee’s institution and program.
  7. Zone mentoring: mentoring based on specific area of expertise. Some individuals within the department or program may be willing and able to provide expert advice on a particular topic to many individuals (but not in groups). It may be useful to identify individuals who are available for consultation about particular issues (e.g., publication strategies, funding agencies, managing research grants, or teaching) and to provide all junior faculty with a list of these zone mentors. These are very specific and narrowly defined relationships that can be used to provide time-limited assistance.

Mentoring Faculty Members from Underrepresented Groups

Mentoring is especially important for faculty members from underrepresented groups, who may face a myriad of challenges, including isolation, exclusion from informal collegial networks, unconscious bias, and devaluation of scholarship focused on these groups. Additionally, they often face a greater load of advising underrepresented students and a disproportional number of requests to serve on committees, which can distract them from their other academic responsibilities. Mentoring can provide these faculty members with an opportunity to discuss their concerns, receive validation and support, and find ways to connect with the institution while focusing on their own career development and achievements.

In this context, it may become necessary to protect these faculty from the demands of tokenism and the assumption that they are the only appropriate person to deal with the problems of students from underrepresented groups. Thus, the mentor or academic leader may need to help these new faculty members avoid becoming overcommitted or overextended by accepting additional committee assignments or requests to participate in role-modeling activities for students. Because these involvements can take valuable time from other academic activities necessary for their success, they should be urged to evaluate them judiciously, chose carefully, and negotiate receiving credit and recognition for their contributions.

Although women and faculty of color have fewer mentors and may be less connected to department networks, there is evidence that they place more importance on mentoring. Academic administrators should ensure that faculty of color and women are formally assigned mentors and check in with them regularly to ensure that they have been able to build a network of compatible mentors, including people who can provide support for coping with inequalities. If the mentee has not been able to build a network of mentors within the program, administrators  may partner with other programs  in the college to facilitate cross-program mentoring.

Research suggests that race and gender of mentor matter to mentees in some, but not all, areas. Women and faculty of color perceived same gender and same race mentors as better able to address issues particularly salient for them and provide  psychosocial support, such as role modeling, confirmation, and assistance in coping with work demands. However, they also valued the instrumental support for meeting requirements for advancement that other mentors can provide, regardless of their gender or race. Thus, while race and gender matter to mentees in some areas, it isn’t necessarily the most important factor or the only factor in choosing a mentor. Additionally, assigning a mentee a mentor simply based on race or gender similarities may be seen as condescending or patronizing, and therefore, such a decision should be made only after discussion with the mentee.

Race or gender differences between a mentor and mentee are often ignored and not discussed. However, in cross-race mentoring relationships in which race was openly discussed, both the mentor and mentee have reported a stronger mentoring alliance. Mentors from majority groups can successfully mentor underrepresented mentees; however, it is important that mentors not assume that mentees will have workplace experiences that mirror their own and be sensitive to the challenges faced by faculty of color and women.

Sources

Additional Resources

  • Faculty Mentoring
    Columbia University Office of the Provost
    ​​​​​​​This Guide to Best Practices in Faculty Mentoring.
  • Faculty Mentoring Best Practices
    University of Massachusetts ADVANCE Program
    This site provides information on best practices for faculty mentoring programs and suggestions for possible organization, suggested functions, and discussion topics.
  • UNT Faculty Mentoring Program Guidebook
    ​​​​​​​University of North Texas Office of Vice President for Academic Affairs
    This faculty mentoring program guidebook discusses types of mentors, role of mentor, role of mentee, and benefits of mentoring.
  • Tips for Mentors
    Georgia College Center for Learning and Teaching
    This is a checklist of activities for mentors and mentees, as well as a list of topics for discussion broken down by categories.
  • Mentoring Resources
    ​​​​​​​University of California/San Francisco Office of Faculty and Academic Affairs
    ​​​​​​​This site contains the UCSF Faculty Mentoring Program Toolkit.