Carnegie Mellon University

Simple Guide to Starting a Mentoring Program

The goal of a mentoring program is to enhance success, promote general satisfaction and community among the faculty.  A good mentoring program is a benefit to the mentors as well as the mentees. Here are some guidelines for developing or enhancing your faculty mentoring program:

  • Each junior faculty member ought to suggest one, or ideally two, senior faculty to serve as their mentor(s).
  • The Department head can discuss these choices with the junior faculty and the nominated senior faculty to ensure they are good fits.
  • Ideally the assigned mentor(s) meets with their mentee regularly, say at least once per semester, to talk about how things are going, and to offer help or advice as needed.   To help everyone remember, it is helpful if the department head inquires to learn which mentors and mentees have met and reminds those who have not met to do so.
  • Social meetings can be more successful (lunch or coffee) for some people. The department might provide a modest budget to defray the cost of social get-togethers. In some cases, the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty may be able to contribute as well.
  • Some suitable topics for discussion with mentees include: time management, student advising/supervision, how promotions work, how to get funding, teaching and dealing with difficult student situations, how to self promote, how to review papers, and how to respond to referee reports.
  • Mentors should be thoughtful when giving advice. For instance, mentors might preface their advice with simple disclaimers such as “in my opinion”, or “this approach worked for me”. In addition, the mentee should feel that it is reasonable to seek advice from many sources, especially the department head. 
  • Biannual Q&A sessions hosted by the department provide another opportunity for junior faculty to learn and to form a community. A group of senior faculty can serve as panelist for these events.  The role of the panel is to respond to questions and share anecdotes about their own experiences. 
  • The mentor has an extra duty during the spring of a promotion/reappointment year to guide the candidate mentee through the process.  The mentor can work with the mentee as they prepare their dossier and materials, review a draft of the candidate’s documents and provide feedback before it is submitted.   Of course this is just the first step in the process; the department head, and perhaps other senior faculty, will normally review a draft and provide feedback before final submission.
  • Junior faculty should be encouraged to be proactive in their mentoring relationships, both in terms of professional ties and affinity groups.  Faculty can also practice peer mentoring and work to build and maintain collegial networks in the department and nationally in the discipline.

Managing Mentoring Relationships

Mentoring relationships are dynamic, and each should be negotiated on an individual basis to meet the needs of the mentee and the resources of the mentor. There are several easily avoidable pitfalls for any mentoring relationship: 

Concern for mentor’s time or the mentee’s autonomy:

Mentees may be hesitant to engage with their mentors when they are such busy people. Conversely, mentors who are not regularly asked for help may assume their mentees do not want to be contacted without an express invitation. While it is important to be cognizant of a colleague’s time, a large part of the success of a mentoring relationship lies in the trust that builds up over time when mentors and mentees get to know one another. It is important for both the mentor and the mentee to be pro-active in the relationship so that the mentee gets the support he or she needs for professional success. Mentors cannot begin to help if they do not know what the mentees’ questions and concerns are. 

Setting Realistic Expectations:

Mentees’ expectations for their mentoring partners can be unrealistic. One or two mentors should not be the only resource sought on any given topic. Mentees should source additional mentors and resources to get all of their questions answered.

Relationships that don’t “click”:  

Although perhaps at no fault of the mentee or the mentor, some relationships may not work. This is less likely to occur if you begin your mentoring relationships with an open dialogue about what you both want and need, and how you see the role of mentor and mentee.  Setting initial expectations and reviewing them regularly may assist in keeping the relationship healthy and advantageous. Any mentoring relationship should have a no-fault termination possibility. 

Changes in the mentoring relationship:

All mentoring relationships experience change as the needs of the mentee are gradually met. Mentees who are successful often become increasingly independent of the mentor. Mentors and mentees should understand the “seasons” of a mentoring relationship, and understand that contact with their partner may vary over time. 

Adapted from:

  • Cornell University, Office of Faculty Development and Diversity, Mentoring
  • Columbia University, “Guide to Best Practices in Faculty Mentoring”