Mentoring: to mentor, or be mentored? That is the question! And the answer is: both! All of us encounter many opportunities in our lives to either mentor, or be mentored; and in any mentoring relationship the responsibility to foster and guide the process falls to both the mentor and the mentee. The goal of this online manual is to highlight the value of mentoring and to help students, faculty, and administrators be better mentees, and become better mentors. This version of the manual focuses generally on mentoring within the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, especially on the mentoring process for underrepresented students, and in some cases specifically on the context of summer research for undergraduates. However, it provides information that mentors and mentees alike may find valuable in variety of circumstances. At the end, we provide a list of various mentoring resources.
The key elements listed below provide the basic foundation for research mentoring. These elements are inter-related, yet each one draws attention to a particular aspect of the mentor-mentee relationship.
One critical element of an effective mentor-mentee relationship is a shared understanding of what each person expects from the relationship. Problems between mentors and mentees often arise from misunderstandings about expectations. Importantly, expectations change over time so frequent reflection and clear communication about expectations are needed on a regular basis.
Learning Objectives for Expectations:
- Establish expectations and clearly communicate them to your mentee
- Design and communicate clear goals for the mentoring relationship
- Listen to and consider the expectations of your mentee in the mentoring relationship
- Assess the mentee’s knowledge and skill level and adjust the project design accordingly
- Consider how differences may impact the relationship.
Maintaining Effective Communication
Good communication is a key element of any relationship and a mentoring relationship is no exception. As mentors, it is not enough to say that we know good communication when we see it. Rather, it is critical that mentors reflect upon and identify the specific characteristics of effective communication and take time to practice communication skills.
Learning Objectives for Communication:
- Foster open communication with your mentee
- Address how differences in communication styles, background, position of power, etc. can alter the intent and the perception of what is said and heard
- Use multiple strategies for improving communication.
Determining if someone understands you is not easy and yet knowing if your mentee understands you is critical to a productive mentor-mentee relationship. Developing strategies to assess understanding is an important part of becoming an effective mentor.
Learning Objectives for Understanding:
- Assess your mentees’ prior knowledge of the research field
- Assess/determine your mentees’ understanding of core concepts and procedures in the research field
- Consider diverse strategies for enhancing mentee understanding
- Explain and/or model the practice of science and research in their discipline
- Assess your mentee’s ability to develop and conduct a research project, analyze data and present results
An important goal in any mentoring relationship is helping the mentee become independent; yet defining what an independent mentee knows and can do is not often articulated by the mentor nor the mentee. Defining what independence looks like and developing skills to foster independence are key to becoming an effective mentor.
Learning Objectives for Independence:
- Consider the important roles you play in the academic, professional and personal development of your mentees
- Employ various strategies to build your mentees’ confidence
- Implement varied approaches to foster your mentees’ independence in scientific research
- Establish trust between yourself and your mentees
- Create an environment where mentees can achieve goals
- Stimulate creativity
Diversity along a range of dimensions offers both challenges and opportunities to any mentor-mentee relationship. Learning to identify, reflect upon, and engage with diversity is critical to forming and maintaining an effective mentoring relationship.
Consider watching the “Single Story” TED Talk given by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and learn about the detriment of assumptions and exclusions linked to identity, and the strengths and importance of diversity and inclusion, specifically how they relate to race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual-orientation, and socio-economic background.
Learning Objectives for Diversity:
- Recognize some of the biases and prejudices you bring to the mentor-mentee relationships
- Implement concrete strategies for addressing issues of diversity
- Engage in conversations about diversity with your mentees
- Understand how your interactions with and role modeling for your mentee can affect that mentee’s decision to commit to careers in science
- Improve your multicultural competency.
Dealing with Research Ethics
Mentors play an important role in both teaching mentees about ethical behavior and modeling ethical behavior. Moreover, there are many ethical issues to consider when entering a relationship with a mentee based on the power dynamic that exists between mentors and mentees. Reflecting upon and discussing ethical behavior is an important part of becoming an effective mentor.
Learning Objectives for Ethics:
- Articulate the issues of ethics you need to discuss with your mentees
- Clarify the role you play, both as a teacher and as a person
Research Learning Contracts
RLCs are an important step in the mentor-mentee relationship: the RLC is crafted by the student at the start of the project, defining the project, the process, and the outcome. The RLC facilitates learning and productivity by promoting partnership, mutual trust, and accountability. You can find our RLC Template here, but you can use whatever format you prefer.
Mentoring Resources List
- Tips for Online Mentors/Program Directors
- Mentoring Remotely / Mentoring During Covid
- Mentoring Manual – Pathways to Science
- ICTR Mentoring Reseources
- Entering Mentoring: A Seminar to Train a New Generation of Scientists
- On Being a Mentor to Students in Science and Engineering (a bit dated but some good resources)
- Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning (CIRTL)
- Case Study activity (divide into groups and discuss possible solutions):
Link to Case Study | Link to 2017 Case Study Discussion Outcomes