Mentoring Relationships

Webster's dictionary defines a mentor as a wise and trusted teacher or counselor. In a university setting, a mentor can help a mentee to learn about campus resources and opportunities, understand disciplinary and departmental norms, balance professional and personal responsibilities, and build a circle of contacts within and beyond the university. Effective mentors can help mentees formulate short-term goals that maximize chances for promotion and tenure as well as longer-term career plans. A mentor might suggest strategies for showcasing new work, flag opportunities to obtain institutional support (such as travel funds, release time, or access to equipment), or help a mentee steer clear of political pitfalls. Invaluable access to honest criticism and informal feedback may be the mentor's most important gift.

Traditionally, mentoring has occurred informally between people who work together. However, reliance on informal relationships can limit access to mentoring opportunities. The Women Faculty Mentoring Program seeks to support women faculty and assist in their career development by providing extra-departmental mentoring from tenured women faculty with similar academic and personal interests. Women appointed with tenure are invited to participate in year-long "welcome and orientation" matches. Assistant professors are invited to participate in mentoring relationships lasting throughout the tenure process.

It is important to note that all assistant professors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are formally assigned a departmental mentor or guidance committee. A Women Faculty Mentoring Program mentor does not replace the departmental mentor or guidance committee; instead, she serves as a resource, helping her mentee to find out what she doesn't know and needs to know.

Questions a Mentor Might Address

  • Are there informal as well as formal criteria for promotion and tenure?
  • Who can help clarify my department's expectations?
  • How do I build a tenure dossier?
  • What organizations should I join?
  • How do I gain a spot on the program at academic colloquia, symposiums, and conferences?
  • How do people in my field find out about, get nominated for and win assistantships, fellowships, grants, awards, and prizes?
  • Who sits on relevant committees?
  • Who can support a nomination effectively?
  • What is the best way of getting feedback on a paper — to circulate pre-publication drafts widely, or to show drafts to a few colleagues?
  • How should co-authorship be handled?
  • What are the leading journals in my field? Have any colleagues published there?
  • Who can bring a submission to the attention of the editors?
  • What kinds of peer review of teaching should I expect? Should I seek additional feedback?
  • Are there other teaching and learning resources I should explore?
  • What are appropriate and accepted ways to raise different kinds of concerns, issues and problems?

Program Guidelines

Mentoring is, in many ways, an elusive concept and an individual process. Every mentoring relationship is unique because each participant's experiences, personality, and professional development agenda differs. Successful mentoring involves a dynamic process whereby each participant learns to respect and trust the partner's commitment, expertise, and individuality. A firm commitment to the mentoring process and a willingness to invest time and energy are the most important components in a successful relationship.

The Women Faculty Mentoring Program offers the following guidelines to help mentors and mentees establish a mutual understanding of each partner's role, expectations, and personal goals.

Advice for Mentors

Recognize and evaluate what you can offer a mentee, keeping in mind that you should not expect yourself to fulfill every mentoring function. Clarify expectations about the extent to which you will offer guidance concerning personal as well as professional issues. You may find it helpful to record goals or write a formal mentoring agreement that you can review together periodically.

Take the initiative in the relationship. Invite your mentee to meet, suggest topics to discuss, and ask what your mentee's needs are. Encourage her to contact you with questions or issues she would like to discuss. You are expected to meet in person at least once each semester and encouraged to make contact by e-mail or telephone periodically between formal meetings.

Be considerate of your mentee's time. Respond to messages promptly and be on time for meetings. Be explicit about your own needs and limits (times you wish not to be disturbed, whether you would like to be contacted at home, etc.).

Always ask if you can make a suggestion or offer criticism before doing so. Complement your observation with specific suggestions for improvement. Give praise as well as criticism.

State explicitly to your mentee that you are only offering suggestions and that she should weigh your advice along with those received from other mentors.

Keep confidences. Make only positive or neutral comments about your mentee to others.

Be honest. Don't be afraid to end your mentoring relationship if changing professional or personal circumstances limit your availability and effectiveness as a mentor, if your mentee's needs change dramatically, or if you find you are ill-matched. If necessary, the Women Faculty Mentoring Program can arrange a new mentor for your mentee.

Keep the door open for your mentee to return in the future. If at all possible, try not to end the relationship on bad terms.

Advice for Mentees

Evaluate your needs and communicate with your mentor about your expectations as a mentee. You may find it helpful to record goals or write a formal mentoring agreement that you can review together periodically.

Be considerate of your mentor's time, but don't be shy about contacting her. Respond to messages promptly and be on time for meetings. You are expected to meet at least once each semester and encouraged to make contact by e-mail and/or telephone periodically between formal meetings.

Do ask for advice. Do not assume that advice will be offered if it is not solicited. Be as specific as possible when asking for advice.

Listen attentively to what your mentor has to say and seriously consider her advice even if your immediate reaction is not positive. Whether you elect to follow her advice, take another person's suggestion, or choose your own solution to a problem, let your mentor know how your conversations have contributed to your decision-making process.

Show appreciation for the time and assistance given to you by your mentor. Mentors need encouragement too.

Keep confidences. Make only positive or neutral comments about your mentor to others.

Be honest. Don't be afraid to end your mentoring relationship if your needs change dramatically, if your mentor's changing professional or personal circumstances limit her availability and effectiveness, or if you find you are ill-matched. If necessary, the Women Faculty Mentoring Program can arrange a new mentor for you.

Keep the door open with your mentor. You never know when you may need her advice or support at some time in the future.