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Improving Academic Mentoring
the other three environments. Mentoring forward involves a faculty member who mentors a graduate student or postdoc, who then peer mentors a novice student. Unlike straight peer mentoring, however, the faculty member is also ac- tively involved in mentoring both the advanced and novice researchers but perhaps on a less frequent basis. Mentoring forward helps to establish a strong culture of mentoring in a collaborative research environment and helps the more ex- perienced mentee develop as a mentor. Mentoring forward would work in any environment but is particularly valuable in a large research group where the faculty member may not be able to interact with every student as often as might be desirable. In effect, mentoring forward assures that younger/ newer students have someone to turn to on a regular basis but can still interact productively with the faculty member.
Stages of Mentoring
It is important that the mentor and mentee recognize that there are natural stages in the mentoring relationship so that they can think purposefully and effectively communicate about how to maximize the relationship benefit and navigate transitions. Although these stages may be called by different names in the mentorship literature with somewhat different meaning depending on the type of mentoring occurring, the four stages (Kram, 1983) of mentoring are referred to here as Initiation, Cultivation, Separation, and Redefinition.
During Initiation, which could last several weeks or months, the mentor and mentee are introduced, begin two-way com- munication, clarify values and needs, and set specific goals and a clear vision for reaching those goals. Taking time dur- ing Initiation to set a strong foundation by communicat- ing values and vision is important for the next and longest phase, Cultivation.
In Cultivation, the mentee acquires knowledge and experi- ence and develops an improved understanding of his/her present role as it fits within the broader scope of long-term personal and professional development and associated ca- reer path. As part of Cultivation, the structure of the men- toring relationship is further defined in terms of meeting frequency and identification of key responsibilities, mutual expectations, and needs. Measures of success and progress are defined and tracked. During Cultivation, the mentor plays many of the roles described in Figure 1 as he/she helps the mentee overcome obstacles to reach goals, evaluates the quality of work, guides progress, and so forth. Regular per- formance reviews during Cultivation are ideal to help moti- vate the mentee, provide direction, and refine intermediate
and long-term goals. The mentee should also be given op- portunities to offer feedback on any concerns regarding the mentoring environment. This feedback helps foster two-way communication and resolve conflicts.
Separation is the intended result of a mentoring relation- ship that occurs with the development of the mentee and accomplishment of established goals. During Separation, regular communication is especially important because it is often tied to simultaneous defense or dissertation deadlines, manuscripts being submitted, job searches, and moves. The stress felt by both mentor and mentee can be reduced if the primary objectives that form the foundation for the mentor- ing relationship are clearly established during Initiation and revisited and redefined as necessary throughout Cultivation. This helps eliminate potential conflict about when a student is “done” and the mentoring relationship is ready for Redefi- nition.
Redefinition consists of moving from an expert-novice rela- tionship to something closer to a peer relationship depend- ing on the initial and final status of the mentee. Thus, Re- definition will be different with an undergraduate moving to a different institution for graduate school versus a postdoc who has now become a colleague. In some cases, we remain mentors only in the sense that having been around longer or having reached a bit farther, we are able to actively support the mentee in his/her long-term professional development. After Redefinition, references may be given or nominating letters written by the mentor long after the initial mentoring has concluded. The benefits of a mentoring relationship are such that if Initiation, Cultivation, Separation, and Redefini- tion are successfully navigated, both the mentor and mentee continue to reap benefits long after the initial objectives of the mentoring relationship have been accomplished.
Characteristics of Mentoring
The different roles of a mentor, potential frameworks for a mentoring relationship, and its four stages have been de- scribed. In considering the desirable traits of a mentor, the different mentor strengths and varied mentee needs could produce a nearly infinite list. However, Allen and Poteet (1999) surveyed former mentees to find which mentor char- acteristics they most valued. The various descriptors in Fig- ure 4 reveal that the mentee is interested in having a mentor who cares about the mentee’s development, who is willing to patiently listen, who can give and receive feedback, and who can be trusted to be objective and to share. Surprisingly few descriptors, “knowledge of field,” “leadership qualities,”
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