A mentor model should be chosen or developed to meet the needs of a specific unit or individual. The options below include traditional approaches as well as models developed by other institutions that pulled strategies from multiple sources to create paradigms appropriate to their needs and context. Some models use different terms such as protégée versus mentee and may distinguish mentoring from specific roles such as advising. However, all of these models share the goal of facilitating the professional development of mentees.
Intentional informal mentoring
Intentional informal mentoring involves overtly recognizing and supporting ways in which colleagues within a unit or professional network can serve as unassigned mentors (individually or collectively) and facilitate personal and professional development of its members. It recognizes that mentors are important and play different, critical roles at different times including that of communicator, advisor, coach, broker, advocate, and often a combination of each of these.
The traditional mentor/mentee dyad mentoring model is a top-down model that involves assigning a single senior academic to mentor an individual early in their career. The mentor may be from within or outside the unit. If the mentor is from within, serious attention should be paid to the issue of confidentiality and potential for conflict of interest. Ideally, mentors would not serve in positions to formally review the mentee. If it 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 explicitly stated at the first meeting. This will guide the nature of the mentor/mentee relationship.
As multiple mentors are recommended, both mentors and mentees should proactively promote supplementing the dyad with additional career development activities and by establishing a “mentor network” of other mentors (formal and informal) and drawing upon the different strengths of each.
If possible, it is recommended that a mentee have multiple formal mentors for different roles, with at least one that doesn’t serve in a formal reviewing capacity. One mentor may be external to the department, college, even university and would therefore not have a conflict of interest. One may be assigned to help advance teaching skills, another for research skills. Mentees should build upon their formal mentor(s), establish a “mentoring network” and draw upon the different strengths of each.
The concept of mentoring networks is similar to multiple mentors but implies that consideration is given to strategically establishing a diverse network of mentors (formal and informal) who may be drawn from many places (internal and external) and who serve in different roles so that multiple needs are met. It is sometimes referred to as a “constellation of mentors.”
The mutual mentoring model is distinct in that it encourages the development of a broader, more flexible network of support to meet the needs of early- and mid-career academics. It is based on the belief that all members of the academic community have something to teach and learn from each other. Our academics are encouraged to build a network of support consisting of a variety of mentoring “partners” including peers, near-peers, senior individuals in similar roles, chairs, administrators, external mentors, librarians, writing coaches and so forth. Mentees should drive the process by mapping out their own individual plan that accommodates personal needs and preferences for types of contacts (one-on-one, small group, team or several types to meet different needs). Individuals must be the primary agents of their own career development.
The term “career advising” is used instead of mentoring to avoid confusion with the mentoring model used in graduate school that typically involves a one-on-one advisor/advisee relationship. However, the goals and strategies are consistent with the concept of mentoring. Career advising focuses on facilitating career success: obtaining markers of career advancement and promotion through achievements in areas including, but not limited to, scholarship, external funding, creative activities, leadership, teaching, outreach, and service. It rests on the premise that no one advisor can meet all an individual’s needs and that advising can take many different forms and involve many kinds of interactions and relationships, including with peers. It should be geared to the developmental needs of the individual.
Peer mentoring is generally done across units and disciplines. The value of this strategy includes building relationships among diverse individuals, creating opportunities for collaboration on projects, and developing camaraderie among members of the community that might not otherwise exist. It can be done one-on-one between experienced and new employees, within groups, or through electronic communication.
Virtual mentoring or e-mentoring
Virtual mentoring relationships are developed and/or maintained through online media. Such relationships may be developed in person and then maintained through email as in the case of meeting a national expert at a conference who agrees to provide continued advising via email. Others may begin with email or social media exchanges that eventually lead to meeting in person. The mentoring may exist entirely through electronic communication. Advantages to e-mentoring include the possibility of connecting with nationally and internationally recognized experts, senior academics, and peers. It multiplies the number and diversity of mentors available to the mentee. A major online service for locating mentors and developing one-on-one guided mentoring relationships is the MentorNet, a free, membership network for women in Engineering and Science that matches students, post-docs, and early-career researchers across universities and within industry.
The National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity also has excellent mentoring programs and related tools for succeeding in academia. The Office of the Provost typically sponsors about 15 individuals each year to participate in the Faculty Success Program.
Create your own model and call it what you want
Consider the different strategies used in existing models. Pull out those that are most relevant to a specific unit or individual. Create a hybrid model that is a good fit with identified needs, challenges, and available resources. Pilot it and evaluate its impact on agreed upon measures of productivity and satisfaction.