Current Mentoring Practices

Over the past several years the Office of Faculty Affairs has conducted two studies to assess the status of mentoring practices on campus. In 2007, pre-tenure faculty were surveyed about their mentoring experiences. The following year a survey solicited feedback from department chairs regarding departmental mentoring practices. Click here to see summary and analysis of responses from department chairs. A special focus of these research efforts was to investigate the impact of the 2004 changes to the APT policy requiring, among other things, the assignment of mentors to all tenure-track faculty.

This report summarizes, compares, and analyzes the results of these surveys. Further, a mentoring best practices document was compiled from survey responses. Click here for that information.

Tenure-track faculty’s perspective on their mentoring experiences (n=100,37% response rate).

Assignment of mentors

While all unit heads reported assigning mentors, 12% of the junior faculty were unaware that they had a designated mentor. As reported above, units varied in whether junior faculty participated in the selection of mentors. However, junior faculty valued such involvement. Assistant Professors agreed that similar research interests between mentor and mentee was very important, even if in meant going outside the department to find such a mentor. They also appreciated having multiple mentors.

Characterization of effective mentors and mentoring relationships

There were numerous similarities in what unit heads and mentees described as the important characteristics of successful mentoring. There were two areas that mentees emphasized more than unit heads.  First, while being “supportive” was listed by some unit heads as a characteristic, mentees placed a very high value on having a supportive mentor. Second, mentees needed mentors to be proactive in initiating the mentoring relationship. Given the power differential, many junior faculty are reluctant to initiate contact or to attempt to take the lead in clarifying the relationship. Hence at the beginning of the relationship, junior faculty experiences and perceptions demonstrate the importance of mentors regularly initiating contact, conveying accessibility, developing mutual expectations as well as cultivating trust, openness, and a sense of being supportive.

Communication of mentors’ role and responsibilities

Mentee comments strongly suggest that there is a lack of clearly established expectations for mentors and mentees.

Assessment of mentoring efforts

While there was considerable agreement with unit heads on many issues, junior faculty presented a different perspective on the degree and quality of mentoring they were receiving. Unit heads were almost unanimously satisfied with their unit’s mentoring efforts.

In their evaluations, 54% of junior faculty described their assigned mentors as helpful or very helpful to their mentees. The comments on these mentors were often extremely complimentary. Some mentees praised their entire departments, which they described as having a shared commitment to the success of their junior faculty. There clearly is a positive movement towards providing high quality mentoring.

On the other hand, 7% found their mentors to be moderately useful, while 37% felt they received very limited or no mentoring. By far the most common reason for these low ratings was a lack of interaction with the mentor. The mentor simply didn’t invest time or interest in the role.

With two exceptions where mentors were replaced, the 100 respondents did not discuss the unit head overseeing their mentoring relationships. For faculty in unsatisfactory mentoring relationships, the need for their unit heads’ involvement is clear. These same mentees made efforts to solicit assistance from their mentor but did not indicate if they contacted their unit head for assistance. Thus many unit heads felt they were keeping abreast of mentoring relationships and that these were going well while quite a few mentees did not have such a rosy view.

As mentioned above, there were mentees who praised the departmental commitment to mentoring. A somewhat larger number specifically noted that there was a problem in their departments, generally a lack of interest or a sense that mentoring was unnecessary. The many stories of mentors failing to fulfill their roles raise the question of how departments perceive mentoring and the role of a mentor. Clearly, unit heads are key players in addressing this issue.