Through faculty mentoring, faculty members share experiences, expertise, and advice on research, teaching, and other professional concerns with less experienced colleagues.
Academics often think of mentoring as guidance for assistant professors seeking tenure, but it also applies to tenured professors working towards career development goals. Mentors may serve as guides to the institution and its culture, research advisors, teaching resources, or role models. The goals of mentoring are to:
- help newer or more junior faculty members acclimate to formal and informal norms of the department, college, and university;
- foster effective research skills and publishing strategies;
- encourage faculty members to refine and expand teaching strategies;
- foster development of a productive balance between research, teaching, and service;
- guide faculty members in progression toward promotion and tenure; and
- foster an atmosphere of collegiality and community.
Benefits of Mentoring
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. Both new and established faculty members can benefit from advice from 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. By fostering collegiality, mentoring will increase teaching and research productivity and lead to improved faculty satisfaction and morale. Potential benefits for a mentee 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.
Potential benefits to mentors include:
- satisfaction from contributing to the development of a colleague;
- exposure to new research techniques and topics, and different teaching styles and strategies;
- reinvigoration of teaching and research programs
Establishing the Mentoring Relationship
It is the responsibility of college deans and department chairs to set the tone for mentoring.
“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 and on diversity; this is part of the conversation between the dean and chairs or directors in their annual review conversation.
- The dean’s office will sponsor an annual information session on effective mentoring for new faculty members and for 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 develop a mentoring plan for the new faculty member. The new faculty member will be consulted in developing this plan. The plan should include attention to teaching, graduate supervision, and research, and should be focused on being helpful rather than authoritarian. Care should be taken not to be unintentionally coercive in the formulation of the mentoring plan and to ensure that it yields reasonably consistent advice for the new appointee. This mentoring plan should include participation by 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, in which all members of the department or program spontaneously and informally mentor new colleagues. 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 new faculty as both audience and presenters, welcome them as members of the community, and serve as modes of informal mentoring.
- Chairs and directors encourage new 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 & Sponsored Programs. Colleges and departments can sponsor, or co-sponsor programs, to assure that faculty are fully aware of extra-departmental opportunities offered by the University.
Faculty members interested in developing mentoring relationships should be responsive to any offers of assistance and open to taking the initiative in forming mentoring relationships. Mentors may need to be prepared to present a mentee’s case for renewal and promotion in the future.
A mentee may meet colleagues by talking with them both at informal occasions and formal gatherings. For example, a mentee may initiate conversations before or after meetings or at social gatherings. A successful mentee 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, a mentee might consider forming a mentoring team or becoming part of a faculty development group. To make the most of a mentoring relationship, a mentee will:
- maintain contact with mentors;
- keep mentors apprised of academic progress;
- ask for help and raise concerns;
- listen to and seriously consider mentors' advice and
- exchange ideas and experiences with mentors.
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, service, time management and wellness, and special interests.
Mentoring: What, Who, and When?
The What of Mentoring
Mentors can provide advice on all aspects of academic development for a mentee--teaching, research, service, and topics of special interest. A suggested checklist can be found in this Best Practice Checklist.
The Who of Mentoring
A mentoring relationship includes at least two faculty members: mentee and mentor. Experiences of both mentee and mentor are relevant and valuable. Mentors should refer a mentee 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 a successful mentorship. With mutual respect, mentor and mentee can develop a fruitful, effective mentoring relationship that transcends their differences. If differences impede the mentorship, other options could be sought.
The When of Mentoring
Mentoring is a commitment of time and energy from both mentor and mentee. To best use the time for a productive mentoring relationship:
- mentoring should begin when a new employee accepts the offer, with support from the dean and chair;
- communication should start as early as possible;
- create a regular meeting schedule;
- establish clear, shared expectations for the relationship, including time commitment;
- institute clear communication protocols and expectations.
Ideas for Mentoring Activities
- 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 your own 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, or blogs
Tips for Effective Mentoring
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;
- 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.
Giving and Getting Career Advice: A Guide for Junior and Senior Faculty, University of Michigan, Academic Year 2009-10
Bibliography: Mentoring: Women Faculty & Faculty of Color, University of Michigan (2000?)
Guide to Best Practices in Faculty Mentoring, Columbia University (2016)
How to Be a Great Mentor (5-part series by Kerry Ann Rockquemore, National Center for Faculty Development and Diversity, 2013)