By mentoring, faculty members share experience, expertise and advice with their colleagues.
Academics often think of mentoring as one-on-one guidance for assistant professors seeking tenure, but it encompasses all faculty members working towards career development goals. Faculty members may serve as guides for each other to the institution and its culture, research opportunities, teaching resources, other professional development resources. The goals of mentoring are to:
- help other faculty members work successfully within both formal and informal norms of the department, college, university, and community;
- foster effective research skills and publishing strategies;
- encourage faculty members to refine and expand teaching strategies for enhanced student success;
- foster development of a productive balance between research, teaching, and service;
- guide each other in progression toward promotion and tenure; and
- foster an atmosphere of collegiality, collaboration, and community.
When they first arrive, all faculty members, regardless of rank or past experiences, need to learn the culture, protocols, and procedures of UM-Dearborn. The faster they acclimate, the sooner they can focus their energies on teaching, research and service. However, even well established faculty members can benefit from collaboration with colleagues. Collegial critiques of drafts of papers and grant proposals may save valuable time and increase chances of early success. Comments on drafts of course proposals and syllabi are also helpful, and we can all improve teaching skills for student success. By fostering collegiality and collaboration, mentoring will increase teaching and research productivity and lead to improved faculty satisfaction and morale. Potential benefits of co-mentoring relationships include:
- quicker acclimation to the work;
- improved teaching;
- improved research skills and productivity;
- better informed choices regarding service activities; and
- increased social contact with colleagues;
- satisfaction from contributing to the development of colleagues;
- exposure to new research techniques and topics, and different teaching styles and strategies; and
- reinvigoration of teaching and research programs.
It is the responsibility of college deans and department chairs to set the tone for collaborative relationships among faculty members.
“If the chair or director does not appear to truly value the practice, or merely gives it lip service, it will be clear to all concerned that it is not a valued activity in the unit. By taking career advising seriously, and consistently communicating that it is part of the responsibility of all faculty, chairs and directors can help create a climate in which better career advising takes place.” (UM--Giving and Getting Career Advice: A guide for junior and senior faculty)
- The dean asks chairs and directors to include in annual reports a section on mentoring, collaboration, and diversity; this is part of the conversation between the dean and chairs or directors in their annual review conversation.
- The dean’s office sponsors an annual information session on effective mentoring/collaboration for faculty members, chairs, and directors.
Department Chair or Director
- As soon as a candidate is offered a position and accepts, the chair or director works with colleagues to include the new faculty member in mentoring and collaborative relationships. The new faculty member will be consulted in developing this plan, to include attention to teaching, graduate supervision, research and service. This mentoring plan should assure collaboration with several members of the department/program during the six years of the candidate’s progress towards tenure.
- Heads of departments and programs should work to develop a climate of mentoring and collaboration in which all members of the department or program spontaneously and informally work with each other. Collegial conversations about the intellectual concerns of the department or program are one of the best modes of informal mentoring. Departments and programs will sponsor departmental/program events, such as colloquia or seminars, that include faculty as both audience and presenters, to promote sharing of experience, skills, and advice among faculty.
- Chairs and directors especially encourage all faculty to take full advantage of help in successful teaching and research offered by the University, such as through the Hub for Teaching & Learning Resources and the Office of Research. Colleges and departments can sponsor or co-sponsor programs, to assure that faculty are fully aware of extra-departmental and community opportunities offered by the University.
Faculty seeking mentoring may meet colleagues by talking with them at both informal occasions and formal gatherings, for example, by initiating conversations before or after meetings or at social gatherings. Successful mentees will be cordial, respectful of a mentor's time, and willing to take advantage of opportunities offered by a mentor. To expand access to a variety of perspectives and an array of areas of expertise, faculty might consider forming a mentoring team or becoming part of a faculty development group.
Multiple mentors may yield greater effectiveness, based on strengths and limitations of each person involved. While the assignment of a mentor should be a collaborative process, recognizing the utility of multiple mentors, each with a specific, non-overlapping mandate, may be useful. Some of the areas in which a mentee might seek advice include: policies, practices, teaching, research, community contacts, service, time management and wellness, and special interests.
The What of Mentoring
Faculty members can provide advice on all aspects of academic development for each other--teaching, research, service, and topics of special interest. A suggested checklist can be found in this Best Practices Checklist.
The Who of Mentoring
A mentoring relationship includes at least two faculty members, but may also include a wide circle of relationships focused on professional development. Experiences of all faculty members are relevant and valuable. Faculty should refer each other to colleagues, as appropriate, for further clarification on policies, additional information and advice, or potential collaboration.
Differences in personality, opinions, or communication styles need not preclude successful mentoring. With mutual respect, faculty can develop fruitful, effective mentoring relationships that transcends their differences. If differences impede a relationship, other options could be sought.
The When of Mentoring
Mentoring is a commitment of time and energy from all faculty involved. To best use the time for a productive mentoring relationship, faculty should:
- begin include a new employee when they first accept an offer, with support from the dean and chair;
- create regular meeting schedules;
- establish clear, shared expectations for relationships, including time commitments; and
- institute clear communication protocols and expectations.
- Exchange, review and discuss each other’s vitae.
- Get to know each other informally, e.g., by sharing coffee or a meal, or attending an on-campus event.
- Explore local museums, parks, or restaurants together.
- Take a tour of campus together.
- Introduce the mentee to staff members in their department and college.
- Introduce the mentee to campus resources such as the Hub or the Mardigian Library.
- Introduce the mentee to colleagues with similar research or teaching interests.
- Visit each other’s classrooms and then discuss teaching techniques and related issues.
- Share experiences with journal referees and editors.
- Share and discuss annual review letters
- Encourage participation in regional and national meetings and professional associations.
- Suggest useful books, articles, websites, podcasts, or blogs.
In addition to being a successful researcher and teacher, a good mentor is accessible, responsive, open-minded, dedicated to the development of others, self-confident and people-oriented. Mentors need to be good listeners, able to offer honest and constructive criticism, willing to compliment the mentee's accomplishments and “talk them up” in their department and college. Mentors must be able to do these things in a confidential manner. An effective mentor will:
- initiate contact with the mentee;
- devote time to the mentoring relationship;
- familiarize the mentee with campus environment and culture;
- assist the mentee in developing a professional network;
- help the mentee set priorities and establish both short and long term goals;
- follow up on a mentee’s progress;
- listen to mentee’s concerns and questions; and
- offer advice in a confidential manner.
Mentoring is a two-way activity. It is important for both mentor and mentee to:
- identify their own strengths, weaknesses, and biases;
- assess and build communication skills, including the ability to give full attention and engage in good listening skills;
- clarify mutual expectations for the relationship; and
- discuss and set up confidentiality expectations.
Some topics might be useful for some mentees, such as:
- how to be assertive in meetings;
- how to manage being challenged, for example, as a woman or Black faculty member;
- how to be selective in accepting assignments;
- being conscious of higher workloads based on gender or ethnicity (e.g., student advising or committee assignments);
To have an effective mentoring relationship, there are some pitfalls to watch out and avoid, including:
- recognize that a power differential exists between mentor and mentee;
- be aware of your own gender and cultural biases; and
- be aware of and guard against boundary violations or the appearance of boundary violations: define limits.
There are many resources on faculty mentoring. You are strongly encouraged to explore further.
Murrell, Audrey. Why Mentoring Matters for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, ACSP Faculty Mentoring Workshop 2021 (YouTube video).
Launch Committees, University of Michigan, Initiated 2012, updated 2023.
Advance Programs: Resources. University of Michigan (2023)
Faculty Mentoring Toolkit, University of California San Francisco (2017)
Guide to Best Practices in Faculty Mentoring, Columbia University (2016)