Mentoring Guide

For Mentors

What is a mentor?
Usually a mentor is defined as a wise and trusted teacher or counselor. In academia, mentors are usually senior faculty, sometimes chairs, who provide guidance to junior faculty. Mentoring often happens informally, but a formal mentorship can be extremely helpful in navigating the challenges of an academic career.

General Tips for Good Mentoring

  • Help establish a social and professional network by introducing your protégé to colleagues across campus.
  • Be willing to guide your protégé through early attempts at teaching, scholarship, and service. Look for chances to collaborate, if appropriate.
  • Exchange CVs with your protégé to stimulate discussion about career paths and possibilities.
  • Ask about and encourage accomplishments. Provide constructive criticism and impromptu feedback.
  • Discuss annual performance reviews with the junior faculty member: how to prepare, what to expect, how to deal with different outcomes.
  • Aid the junior faculty in exploring the institutional, school, and departmental culture. For instance, what is valued and rewarded?
  • Share knowledge of important university and professional events that should be attended by the junior faculty member.
  • Be proactive and help your protégé keep track of upcoming deadlines—promotion and tenure files, salary documents, grant applications, freshman midterm grade deficiencies, etc.
  • Try to be in contact twice monthly (if possible) about the junior faculty's career and Activities, and meet regularly. Commit to making one contact per month to show you're thinking about your protégé's career.
  • Recognize and evaluate what you can offer a protégé, keeping in mind that you should not expect yourself to fulfill every mentoring function. For instance, there are several topics that are best discussed with one’s department chair or with other specialists on campus.
  • Clarify expectations with your mentee about the extent to which you will offer guidance concerning personal as well as professional issues, such as advice about how to balance family and career responsibilities.
  • Help your protégé learn what kinds of available institutional support she should seek in order to further her own career development (such as funds to attend conferences or workshops, release time for special projects, or equipment funds).
  • Tell your mentee if he asks for too much (or too little) time.
  • Attend all events, including the fall training session and periodic workshops.
  • Leave time for unstructured conversations.
  • Remember that information shared by your mentoring partner is confidential. 

Be proactive
Be proactive in asking questions and offering assistance, rather than waiting for your protégé to ask for your help. It is generally better to ask your protégé specific, rather than general, questions. Here are some examples of general and specific/proactive questions:

General: How's your teaching going? 
Specific: How are you doing managing the large class environment? 
           
General: How is grading going for you so far? 
Specific: My students often don't participate much during class discussions. How are yours doing with that? 
           
General: How's your research going? 
Specific: You talked about searching for a grant to fund your research project. How's that going so far? 
           
General: How's your P&T document going? 
Specific: Your P&T document is due in a month; would you like me to take a look at a draft with you? 

What questions might a mentor answer?

  • How do I determine, if it is not already clear, what the criteria are for promotion and tenure? How do I build a tenure file?
  • How do people in my field find out about, get nominated for and win fellowships, grants, awards, and prizes?
  • How can I find collaborators with whom to conduct research and pursue grant opportunities? How should I approach potential collaborators?
  • What organizations should I join? How can a person get on the program of important conferences and meetings?
  • What are appropriate and accepted ways to raise different kinds of concerns, issues and problems?
  • 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?
  • What kinds of committees should I join in order to become better known at the institution? How does one get on such committees?

For Those Being Mentored

What benefits does mentoring provide to the protégé?

  • Honest criticism and informal feedback
  • Advice on how to balance teaching, research and other responsibilities
  • Advice on how to set professional priorities; knowledge of informal rules for advancement (as well as political and substantive pitfalls to be avoided); skills for showcasing your work
  • Advice on developing an understanding of how to build a circle of friends and contacts both within and outside our institution, and a perspective on long-term career planning

Tips for New Faculty Protégés

  • Be proactive in your mentoring relationship.
  • Show initiative in career planning: write a five-year plan and share it with your mentor, exchange your CV with your mentor for discussion.
  • Reflect on your career achievements and realistic adjustments to your plan with your mentor. Be sure your plans are flexible enough to allow for unexpected opportunities or challenges.
  • Find out about, and take advantage of, opportunities for learning about how the university, and your field, operates. Write down questions as they occur to you, and then begin searching out the answers.
  • Realize that your success is important not just to you, but also to your department and the University, which both have made a big investment in your success. Remember that "going it alone" doesn't work that well for anyone.
  • Make your scheduled meetings with your mentor a priority, and take advantage of e-mail and the telephone to keep in touch informally.
  • Make and maintain contacts with other junior faculty within your department as well as in other departments and schools.
  • Become familiar with the resources available to support and strengthen your teaching and research.
  • Set a meeting with your chair to discuss departmental expectations for tenure and promotion 
  • Let the SMART director know if you have questions or concerns about the program.
  • Take advantage of the opportunities presented. 
  • Be willing to ask for help or feedback when you need it.
  • Be willing to listen and learn and be open and honest with your mentor.

Changing mentors

A mentee should consider changing mentors if the mentor is clearly and consistently uninterested in her, if the mentor consistently depresses the mentee by undervaluing her abilities or  questioning her motives, if the mentor displays any other signs of undermining the relationship (e.g. racial, sexual, ethnic or other prejudice), or if there is simply incompatibility. If a mentee has problems with a mentor, he should contact the SMART director for assistance.

A mentee should consider adding a mentor if the current mentor is unfamiliar with areas in which the mentee needs guidance.

General Advice

Mentoring Tasks

We all recognize that the first semester in a new faculty position is a whirlwind; our new colleagues must learn an entirely new system and culture, all while teaching new courses in an unfamiliar setting. The responsibility of guiding a new faculty member through this transition is an important one. As your protégé enters the spring semester, things will start settling down a bit, allowing for some time to reflect on the transition to Lamar and to plan for ongoing professional development. You will understand more about your protégé's personality and evolving needs, so spring is the ideal time to talk openly about the mentoring process thus far and to develop a personalized ongoing mentoring program.
  • Discuss key university policies and initiatives as well as culture with your protégé.

  • Introduce your protégé to the annual review and promotion and tenure processes. Help establish an initial plan/timetable for working toward tenure, and discuss the second-year and fourth-year reviews. (In the case of instructors, this should focus on policies and planning for annual reports and merit pay.)

  • Help your protégé transition into a full-time teaching role at the university, and discuss their teaching with them. Point your protégé to campus resources, such as the CTLE, which can help with teaching concerns.

  • Discuss what “collegiality” means and the role of colleagues’ perceptions of the junior faculty member.

  • If appropriate, assist with the initial development of a research agenda and help locate funding and other resources to support that plan. Help your protégé identify potential collaborators, if appropriate.

  • Advise as needed on various professional issues, such as time management, navigating departmental politics, balancing teaching/research/service, balancing work/home life, etc.

  • Assist with networking. Introduce your protégé to faculty, staff, and administrators across campus.

  • Discuss how your protégé can begin to build his service profile by becoming a member of committees, along with when and how much committee work to do.

  • Discuss campus support for scholarship and creative activity (eg. REG, Faculty Development Leave, etc.)

  • Help your protégé develop good habits of time management, especially regarding scholarship and creative activity. Help your protégé learn how to protect her time for scholarship and creative activity by saying no, when appropriate, and which demands on her time she can safely say no to.

  • Be a welcoming and supportive ear for your protégé, providing them with a safe place to ask “dumb” questions.

     

Potential Questions for Discussion

Research and Resources

  • What conferences should the junior faculty attend?
  • How much travel is allowed/expected/supported?
  • How do you choose between large conferences and smaller events?
  • What can you do at professional gatherings to gain the type of exposure that can lead to good contacts?
  • What research resources are available to you as a faculty member?
  • How important are grants?
  • How do you get hooked into the grant-writing process?
  • How much effort should you be investing in capturing research funding?
  • How can you find people to assist you in writing the best possible proposal, to draw up the budget?
  • What is the expected percent of indirect cost funding on grants you receive?
  • Are there funding agencies to which you should not apply for grants because of inadequate indirect cost recovery?
  • What do you see as your research "niche" in your department, in your area of research?
  • What does your chair see your area of research contributing to the department, eventually to the school?

Collaborative Research

  • Is collaborative work encouraged or discouraged in your department/school/field? With other members of your department? With international colleagues? With colleagues who are senior/more established? With other junior faculty/graduate students? Long-standing collaborations, or single efforts?
  • How important is it to have some (or all) single-author papers to your credit or papers with multiple authors in which you are first author or senior author? Should you form a research group? What sort of activities should the group do, as opposed to work you should undertake individually? On collaborative efforts, how are the authors listed? How important is first authorship? Where do graduate student names go? How is alphabetical listing of authors viewed?

Publication

  • What should you publish? How much/how often?
  • How many conferences should you go to each year?
  • What are your department/school's expectations regarding publication before tenure and promotion?
  • How do journal/chapters in edited collections/conferences compare?
  • How much "new" work is necessary to make something a "new" publication?
  • Where should your publishing energy go: is a single-author book always preferable to an edited collection?
  • When is it time to worry if you haven't published?
  • Is it worthwhile to send published reports to colleagues here, and elsewhere?
  • What's the line between sharing news of your accomplishments and appearing self-congratulatory?

Service

  • How much committee work should you expect to perform within your department? school? university? At the beginning of your career at Lamar? What committees should you seek out? Are there any you should avoid pre-tenure? How much time should you expect to devote to committees and other forms of service as a junior faculty member?
  • How important is professional service outside of the university? How much paper and proposal reviewing is reasonable? Review boards? Journal assistant editorships?
  • How do you weigh the prestige of organizing a national event in your field versus the time commitment?

Review Process

  • How long is your appointment? When will you come up for review? What sort of reviews? How are second- and fourth-year reviews, for example, different from the tenure review? What is the process? (What do you submit for review? When? How do you hear the results? How are the reviewers selected? Do you have a role in that process?)
  • What information is important in your vita? Is there any activity too trivial to include?
  • Should you send copies of congratulatory letters to your department chair, or simply retain them for your dossier?
  • How are merit raises distributed?

Teaching

  • What are you expected to teach? Graduate, undergraduate, seminar, lecture, practicum, special topic, service course? Are some types of teaching more valued? How much flexibility is there in teaching schedules? Who controls the schedule?
  • Which are the "good" subjects to teach? Is it good to teach the same course semester after semester, stay with a single area? Or should you "teach around"?
  • Is it good to develop new courses? Specialized courses in your research area?
  • For faculty on "soft money," what are the departmental expectations for teaching load considering the number and size of grants that must be written to support the expected fraction of your salary? Is this a reasonable expectation? What about lectures in other courses?
  • How can you use a special topics course to get a new research project off the ground?
  • How much time should you spend on your course preparation? Where's the line between sufficient preparation and over-preparation?
  • How are you evaluated on teaching? What importance is placed on peer observation of your teaching? On student evaluations? If senior faculty do observe your classes, who asks them to come? To whom do they report, and in what way? What resources are there for improving your teaching?
  • If a classroom problem arises that you aren't sure how to handle, what are your options for seeking advice and help?
  • What documentation related to teaching should you keep? Syllabi? Exams? Abstracts?
  • How should you develop a teaching portfolio? What form should it take? What should it include?

Student Supervision

  • How important is your work with graduate students? How about undergraduate researchers?
  • How many should you expect to supervise? How many is too many? What should you expect to do as an advisor?
  • How do you set limits on the amount of time/effort you invest in graduate students?
  • How do you identify "good" graduate students? What qualities should you look for?
  • How aggressive should you be in recruiting them to work with you? What should you expect from your graduate students?
  • How do you identify a problem graduate student?
  • How important is it to the department that you are a Ph.D. student advisor? On a Ph.D. student committee? A mentor for a professional school thesis? Mentor for an independent honors thesis? How does one become a member of the graduate faculty?
  • What should you keep in files on your students? Remember that you have to write reviews and recommendations for them. 

Personal Issues

  • What policies does Lamar University have for family and personal leave? How do you go about asking for such leave? Do you begin at the department level? Is there an appeals process if your request is turned down?
  • What programs/assistance does the university provide for childcare?
  • How visible must one be in the department? Is it expected that you'll show your face every day? Is it acceptable to work at home?
  • What problems does the university's Employee Assistance Program deal with?
  • What are the university's sexual harassment policies?
  • If you're involved in a controversy or dispute, where do you go for help?

Typical Issues

  • How does one establish an appropriate balance between teaching, research and committee work? How does one say "no?"
  • What criteria are used for teaching excellence, how is teaching evaluated?
  • How does one obtain feedback concerning teaching? What resources are available for teaching enhancement?
  • What are the criteria for research excellence, how is research evaluated?
  • How does the merit and promotion process work? Who is involved?

Sources Consulted

“Mentoring Guidelines and Suggestions for Supporting New and Early Career Faculty” Cornell University Advance.

“New Faculty Mentoring Guide”. Ball State University Office of Educational Excellence. Retrieved from http://cms.bsu.edu/about/administrativeoffices/educationalexcellence/resources/facultymentors

Rockquemore, K. A. (August 12, 2013). “How to Be a Great Mentor: A Mentoring Manifesto.” Inside Higher Ed.com. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2013/08/12/essay-how-be-good-faculty-mentor-junior-professors

“The Successful Mentee” Cornell University Advance.

Thomas, R. “Exemplary Junior Faculty Mentoring Programs.” Yale University Women Faculty Forum.

For more information, please contact Dr. Amy Smith, Associate Director, SMART at amy.smith@lamar.edu