Mentoring Faculty

Mentoring has been identified by recent University committees as the single issue that most affects faculty productivity as well as faculty retention, particularly for women and minorities. Faculty members seek guidance about professional matters, including preparing for the tenure process, publishing, participating in conferences, teaching, and so forth.

Department chairpersons should ask new faculty about the type of mentoring they would like—formal or informal, within the department or from outside— and discuss the new faculty member’s concerns about publishing, teaching, and so forth. The chairperson may also want to ask incoming faculty whether they have a preference or suggestion regarding who might serve as a mentor. It may be appropriate in some cases to suggest one mentor for research advice and another for teaching advice. In small departments, it may even be useful to ask for mentors outside the department and even, when necessary, outside the University. In interdisciplinary units, it may be important to ask someone in the discipline who is housed in another department in the College to serve as a research mentor. It is a good practice to meet individually with new faculty at the end of the year to assess the effectiveness of the mentoring.

In some departments in Arts and Letters, the chairperson serves as the designated mentor. In these cases, the chairpersons feel that because they are responsible for evaluating and providing feedback to faculty, they are best suited to provide suggestions, guidance, and overall mentoring to their junior colleagues. They can also ensure that the mentoring is consistent across faculty in the department. One danger in this arrangement, however, is that the line between mentoring and evaluating can be blurred.

What is a mentor?

There are a number of definitions of a mentor. Most state that a mentor should “provide support, information, background, and encouragement, and (be) available to discuss any aspect” of the job requirements. Some also include an element of psychosocial support in their definition. At least two specific types of mentoring can also be identified.

Instructional Mentoring

Instructional mentoring involves helping faculty gain information, for example, on the quality of journals and academic presses and on appropriate grant agencies for a given project; facilitative mentoring is more hands-on and involves giving detailed feedback.

Facilitative Mentoring

A facilitative mentor asks such questions as, “What can I do to help you move your book along?” or “Let’s brainstorm on what might make your tenure case stronger two years from now, and then we can focus on what is most realistic?” Facilitative mentoring can also be evident in teaching, especially when visits are done over a series of semesters and a series of types of courses.

Guidelines for Faculty Mentors

Regardless of who serves as the mentor (e.g., chairperson, an assigned senior colleague, someone the new faculty member identifies, or several faculty members), mentors should:

Establish an effective relationship from the beginning.

Ideally, mentors should be assigned prior to the arrival of new faculty members so that new faculty have a designated person to whom they can ask questions prior to coming to campus. Initially, it makes sense for meetings between the mentor and mentee to take place more frequently (e.g., once a month) when the faculty member is just starting. As the mentee matures, the need for as many interactions typically decreases, though meetings should still occur several times throughout the year.

Explain the criteria for achieving tenure and promotion.

Information should be available in written form from the department’s CAP document. The mentor can also help explain the information in more detail and tailor it to the new faculty member’s circumstances. There should be some discussion about teaching expectations (formal and informal), research productivity (publication venues, publication rate, grants and fellowships, etc.), service, and the allocation of time to all three of these areas. Sometimes new faculty members benefit from receiving help with creating timelines for completing specific projects. Mentors, chairpersons, and members of CAP should make sure that the expectations for and information about tenure and promotion are consistently presented to new faculty.

Advise the mentee about CAP materials

Explain which documents and materials they should gather to eventually be presented to the departmental CAP for evaluation at the time of renewal and promotion. The mentor can review CVs, syllabi, teaching portfolios, and other materials. They may also make classroom visits and provide the mentee with feedback about teaching. Moreover, the mentor should review materials on a regular basis, and not wait until the time of renewal or tenure.

Help the faculty member find resources

This may include resources such as the Kaneb Center for guidance with teaching; the Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts for help with identifying potential external funding sources and writing grant proposals; and the Dean’s Office for issues related to policies, procedures, or simply as a source of additional mentoring. The mentor can also serve as a source of information regarding University and College policies. The mentor may also help the mentee identify colleagues who could review manuscripts prior to submission for publication review, particularly if the mentor is not in the same field as the mentee. The mentor can also serve as a sounding board if there are any problems. The mentor can help think through problems with the new faculty member and serve as an advocate if necessary.

Help the faculty member network

Networking may be with colleagues inside and outside the department. If they are in the same field, the mentor can also help the mentee meet colleagues in the discipline outside of the University.

Consistently communicate with Chairperson and CAP

The mentor should be made aware of any concerns that the department has for the mentee so that the mentor is better able to advise the mentee about professional issues. The mentor should also review mentoring activities with the chairperson. If for some reason the mentoring relationship is not going as smoothly as desired, a change should be made.