For the 2019-2020 academic year, I am honored to be a Faculty Fellow for The Office for Faculty Excellence at my university. With this appointment, I am tasked with contributing to the professional development of graduate students and faculty across campus. In addition to providing consultations and implementing educational activities, I was given the flexibility to conceptualize programming based on my own interests. With this assignment, I knew that my focus would be mentoring. Further confirmation that I was on the right track was the recent announcement for the mentoring academy offered through NCFR. I saw this as a sign that the timing was right for what I am doing at my university!
During my doctoral work and in preparation for life in academia, I had the honor of being mentored by one of the world’s most renown academic educators. This person taught me how to be an effective teacher, but most importantly demonstrated the power of having a dedicated mentor. In the years after, I searched for similar mentorship but often feel short. I yearned for other devoted and caring mentors to help me with the tenure process and to be my advocates in academia.
From my own personal quest for mentorship and the research, planning, and recruitment process for our university program, I have learned many best practices for mentoring relationships. Key factors for success of a mentoring program are systemic and dynamic in nature. They require thoughtful and flexible decision-making and collaboration with all levels of university operations. Here are just a few that I have found to be important in conducting a mentoring program for faculty or students:
- There must be buy-in from university administrators. The university community should be supportive of any mentoring efforts in order for them to be successful. Whether they are allocating resources for the program or helping to identify appropriate mentors, administrators (e.g., senior faculty, chairs/deans, provosts, chancellors) should be involved in all stages of planning and implementation.
- Campus collaborations are a necessity. As systemic thinkers, it was obvious that success meant our faculty development office could not work in a vacuum. Relationships with representatives from diversity and inclusion, global affairs, graduate studies, community engagement, writing success, and student affairs (to name a few) must have a seat at the planning table. They also serve as great resources for your mentoring participants.
- Mentors must be trained and demonstrate a commitment to the process. Student and faculty mentors have identifiable skills and accomplishments enabling them to work with mentees, but many lack an understanding of how to be a successful mentor. Mentors need training on how to establish working relationships with mentees. They also need information on ways to help mentees identify and work towards academic, professional, and personal goals.
- Mentees should choose their own mentors. Assigning mentors based on interest and/or availability is a common practice. But to facilitate a more productive working relationship, mentees must be able to choose who they want to work with. After identifying what they want to accomplish from the mentoring relationship, mentees should choose the person they think will best help them reach their goals.
- Mentors require support too. Mentoring can be an isolating process especially for those who meet one-on-one. Therefore, mentors should be provided the space to connect with and have reciprocal supportive relationships with other mentors. Team or group mentoring models are more successful than traditional ones.
- Consideration of diversity and inclusion. Mentoring programs should recognize the institutional and cultural barriers that exist in academia for members of marginalized communities. Recruiting a diverse group of mentors is fundamental, but often not possible. All mentors need education on the unique experiences of marginalized students and faculty, which will increase their retention, satisfaction, and success.
Image credit: Career mentoring – Adventure Jan 24 2018_230 by Thompson Rivers. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0