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 Improving Academic Mentoring
for the reader interested in learning more. Our hope is that readers, both current and prospective mentors and mentees, will benefit from improved and lasting mentoring relation- ships.
There are several caveats to this article. First, our focus is on academic mentoring because that is our area of experience and knowledge. We recognize, however, that many ASA members work in government, industry, and other types of organizations that also have mentoring expectations. How- ever, we also realize that although the basic principles of mentoring are the same everywhere, there are approaches to mentoring that vary across different professions. Thus, the editor of Acoustics Today (ANP) invites readers to suggest articles for future issues of the magazine about other men- toring environments or that members offer letters to the edi- tor to discuss mentoring in their workplace.
Second, although basic mentoring principles are the same, approaches to mentoring, even within academia, vary sub- stantially between disciplines and particularly between lab sciences (STEM and most of the disciplines represented in the ASA) and the arts and humanities. For example, ASA mentors often have labs and both see and interact with their mentees daily. In the humanities, mentor-mentee interac- tions are generally far less frequent, perhaps monthly or even less frequently. Thus, expectations and interactions are far different than those in STEM.
Finally, one of the things that we have discovered is that even within a particular discipline, there are often differences in mentoring approaches in different countries. As one exam- ple, in the United States, programs supported by National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foun- dation (NSF) are required to expose trainees to issues that are broadly referred to as Research Ethics (which includes mentoring). In contrast, this idea is not at all common in Europe. Many other aspects of mentoring vary as well and often country by country.
What is Mentoring?
It is important to understand what is and is not meant by mentoring. The literature uses several helpful descriptors (see National Academy of Sciences, 2009), some of which are listed in Figure 1. These descriptors illustrate the many ever-changing hats a mentor must wear for the mentoring relationship to evolve as a student progresses. At the heart of mentoring is a sustained interest by the mentor in the long- term development of the mentee, not solely in the comple-
Figure 1. Some of the roles of an academic mentor.
tion of some set of tasks. In many senses, particularly in the academic environment, the title of mentor far outlasts the academic degree or next appointment.
In academia, the closest relationship a student will likely have with a faculty member is with a research advisor and supervisor. But research advisement is not necessarily men- torship. Included in Figure 1 are “advisor” and “coach,” both of which are part of mentoring and are necessary cogs in the development “machinery,” but they are not adequate synonyms. Advisor and coach are roles that are focused on completing tasks and changing behavior to develop skills that enhance productivity. The role of advisor or coach in- herently ends with graduation or when the necessary skill has been acquired. The mentor, on the other hand, views completed tasks or acquired skills within a framework of broader development of the individual.
In the context of graduate education, Columbia University ( reminds us of the importance of establishing a constructive mentoring relationship and not underestimating the role that the faculty member plays both now and in the future:
The relationship between a mentor and a graduate student is the most influential relationship in the student’s career. Effective mentors are much more than advisors or teach- ers. They are role models, consultants, problem solvers, and supporters. They provide timely and constructive feed- back, career guidance, professional contacts, [are] sources of information about research grants and fellowship and job opportunities, and letters of recommendation through- out your professional career.
Benefits of Mentoring
Mentoring is far more difficult than advising; it requires more time, energy, and an emotional investment by the mentor.
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