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Mentees & Mentors: Maximizing the Benefits

Engineering Librarian

Paula C Johnson's picture
Paula C Johnson
Contact:
Main Library A403
520-621-9862
Subjects:Engineering

A Perspective on Mentors

We are very glad you've elected to be a mentee, and believe you will develop a fruitful connection with your mentor. The following blog post comes from NCFDD (from National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity), and it asks you consider not just relying on your mentor for the support and assistance you seek, but to get your needs met from a variety of connections

.. whenever someone tells me that they need "a mentor” I ask them what exactly they mean by "mentoring." There’s always a long pause as if it’s self-evident, but the breadth of responses that follow is staggering, ranging from a parental figure in their professional life to having coffee once a year. So instead of talking about “mentoring” and hoping that everyone means the same thing, let’s shift our thinking and our language to focus on two questions: 1) What do I need? and 2) How can I get my needs met? I work most frequently with tenure-track faculty and I’ve observed that the average new faculty has some combination of the following needs:

Professional Development 

Many new faculty are looking for help learning how to manage time, resolve conflicts, administer projects, organize your office space, teach efficiently and well, supervise graduate students, and make strategic decisions about service commitments.

Emotional Support

As a new faculty member, you are in the midst of a significant identity and role transition -- from graduate student (or post-doc) to professor. As a result, you may need support in dealing with the common stress and pressures of transitioning to life on the tenure track.

A Sense Of Community 

Given that most new tenure-track faculty have uprooted their lives to move to a new area, you may find yourself seeking both an intellectual and/or social community where you feel a true sense of belonging.

Accountability

The structure of your job likely provides the least accountability for the activity that is most valued -- research, writing, and publication. In order to avoid getting caught up in the daily chaos, the vast majority of new faculty members need some form of accountability system for writing.

Institutional Sponsorship 

You also need to cultivate relationships with people who are invested in your success at your institution. By that, I mean senior faculty who are willing to use their power to advocate for your best interests behind closed doors.

Access To Networks 

Because knowledge isn't produced in isolation, it's critical for you to connect with others to discuss potential research collaborations, navigate external funding, and access opportunity structures that might not be immediately apparent to you as a new faculty member.

Project Specific Feedback 

You will also need to regularly communicate with people who can provide substantive comments on your proposals, manuscript drafts, and new ideas.

Role Models

As a new faculty member, looking to other faculty members who are navigating the academy in a way that you aspire to will be critical for your development as both a faculty member and academic.

Safe Space

This applies at any career stage, but especially as a tenure-track faculty member. It's extremely important to have the space to discuss and process unique and individual experiences without being invalidated, questioned, devalued and/or disrespected.

... when you shift from a person-based to a needs-based framework, it frees you from the search for "a mentor” and focuses you instead on identifying your needs and getting them met. This shift acknowledges that it’s normal to have an evolving set of needs throughout your career and that those needs are most effectively, efficiently, and comprehensively met in the context of a broad network of information, community, support, accountability, and ongoing feedback.

Once you know what you need and have identified possibilities for getting it met, ask for help widely without shame, insecurity, or the belief that such a request means you are incompetent. Release yourself from the limiting belief that all you need is to find a single guru-like figure who will care for you, protect you, and lovingly guide you through your academic career.

Be sure that you are taking advantage of whatever "mentoring" programs your department offers, as well as any that may be offered by your professional organizations. They may not meet all of your needs, but they will increase the size of the network of people you can call on to assist you when you need it.