No matter what mentor model is used, it is critically important to establish how issues of confidentiality will be handled. All academics need to work in an environment in which they can feel safe and able to address concerns without fear of retribution. A breach of confidentiality, or misunderstandings about confidentiality, can be harmful to the mentor- mentee relationship and potentially to the faculty member’s career.
Below are strategies for minimizing conflicts of interest and protecting confidentiality that should be considered at the outset of the relationship.
Clarify how each party defines confidentiality. Do not assume all communications are private and confidential. Be clear with each other about what is to be held in confidence. Be realistic – total confidentiality may not always be possible, such as when the mentor also serves in a formal reviewing capacity for the mentee.
Questions to facilitate this discussion include:
- What topics or issues are most in need of protection?
- Are there individuals with whom information may or may not be shared, including spouses/partners, with or without names? Both parties should disclose if a partner is a faculty member at MSU and in which department.
- In what situations might the mentor or mentee need to disclose information, what information, and to whom?
Identify conflicts of interest
Conflicts of interest should be openly discussed. Ideally, mentors would not serve on a mentee’s review committee. However, in cases where this is unavoidable, the mentee should be clearly informed of the mentor’s dual role. The extent to which the mentor will be reporting to the committee should be discussed and clarified at the first mentor/mentee meeting.
Create a written agreement
Address confidentiality within a written mentor/mentee agreement. It may be as simple as stating, in writing, what sensitive issues are off-limits for discussion or those which will be held in confidence. Both parties should stay true to whatever agreement is made, written or not. Over time, this will build trust. Agreements may need to be revisited periodically.
Have a no-fault exit plan
If the match is not working or worthwhile, for whatever reason, neither party should feel pressure to maintain the match. Discuss the situation as openly as possible, including being clear about reasons for requesting a change. Both parties can then agree to a “no-fault conclusion,” without penalty. In formal mentoring arrangements, any relevant supervisors should be notified and requests made for a new match.
See reference 14 in the Literature Cited list.