About Mentoring

What is Mentoring?

Mentor meetingBoth coaching and mentoring are important to the academic success of a new faculty member.

Coaching assists in the development of new skills or knowledge and may be task oriented and of limited duration. For example, coaching might be about clinical billing, clinic operations, how to communicate with referring physicians, the learning of a new clinical research skill, how to order research supplies, or other task-oriented activities. In coaching, someone with the necessary and specific knowledge, the expert, provides new information to a faculty member to enhance their personal skills. The coach could be the employee’s direct supervisor and the outcome measure of coaching is the successful acquisition of a new skill.

Mentoring is a supportive relationship between the mentor, often a senior faculty member, who over a series of meetings assists in the professional development and academic success of a mentee or protégé. Mentoring is an intentional process that focuses on the academic achievement of the mentee (Wong and Premkumar, 2010) and is often a one-to-one relationship between the two faculty members.

Ideally, the mentor should not be the direct supervisor or the department chair of the mentee. In mentoring, content expertise of the chosen mentor is not generally required. Rather, mentoring is the development of a relationship that explores the mentee’s personal goals, provides discussions of possible options and solutions for questions and issues that are raised by the mentee, provides counseling regarding career development, work-life balance, and the attainment of personal goals, provides advice for rank advancement, and gives feedback on any issue the mentee may raise.

Mentoring may assist with grant writing, manuscript preparation, ensuring patient satisfaction with clinical encounters, and in the prevention of faculty burnout or loss of enthusiasm for an academic career. The mentor may also “open doors” for the mentee to assist them with involvement in local or national organizations or participation on research teams, university or organizational committees, or other activities that add to the mentee’s professional growth.  Mentoring permits the mentee to observe how a successful senior faculty member approaches problems and their career. Successful mentoring relationships often result when the mentee establishes clear personal goals, the expectations for the mentoring relationship are well-defined during initial meetings, and as the respect between the mentor and the mentee develops (Straus, Johnson, Marquez, and Feldman, 2013).

Mentoring relationships should have a regular meeting schedule, have discussions that are confidential, may or may not be time-limited, and should not include direct feedback to the mentee’s supervisor or department chair. Outcome measures that evaluate the progress and success of the mentoring relationship in attaining the goals of the mentee should be part of the process.

Mentoring programs can be either formal or informal. Informal mentoring often occurs spontaneously at points during a faculty member’s academic career when the mentee selects a mentor based on a current need. This is self-directed or functional mentoring because of a new research project, a new teaching requirement, or the changing personal needs of the mentee (Thorndyke, Gusic, Milner, 2008).  With formal mentoring, a mentee is specifically matched to a mentor based on their common interests in a one-to-one relationship for career development or the mentee is placed with a group of individuals sharing a common interest (peer mentoring).  Peer mentoring groups can also be facilitated by adding a senior faculty member to bring their past experience to discussions.