Applied Health Sciences Faculty Mentoring Guide

When faculty members arrive at the University of Illinois, they enter a new working environment and embark on a transition to develop successful academic careers.  They come with prospects for their future and must orient themselves personally, professionally, and institutionally.  During their movement through the ranks of the professorship, their career evolves and they contribute to the culture of their department, college, and campus.  Throughout the evolution of their career, it is important that they have numerous opportunities to obtain advice, counsel, and to otherwise engage in a sustained conversation with faculty mentors.  All faculty share responsibility for mentoring and have a stake in the benefits that flow from developing healthy relationships with new faculty. The purpose of this AHS Faculty Mentoring Guide is to provide direction regarding best practices to build successful mentoring relationships among college faculty.

Why mentoring matters

              Deliberately cultivating mentoring relationships is crucial for the success of college faculty and furthering the missions of each unit.  An academic career built around research, teaching, and service is bolstered by developing strong relationships among faculty (Johnson, 2007, p. 5).  A premise of this guide is that mentoring is the “fourth leg in the academic stool” and that purposeful conversations about good judgment, priorities, and direction are essential to build a strong body of faculty (Jacob, 1997). 

            The effects of mentoring on the culture of a department and career of faculty can be substantial. There are many positive outcomes connected with faculty mentoring programs (Bode, 1999; Boice, 1992; Johnson, 2007; Moody, 2004; Shockett & Haring-Hidore, 1985). The outcomes of mentoring accrue to all faculty members and include:

  • More effective research, teaching, and university service
  • Higher rates of retention
  • Stronger commitment to an academic career
  • Greater sense of ownership and commitment to one’s institution
  • Stronger friendships and more extensive collegial networks
  • Reduced stress and social isolation
  • Higher job satisfaction

            There are positive ripple effects from mentoring that run throughout a university.  Each of the outcomes enhances the organizational climate and institutional character for all faculty members.  A mentor may enhance any or all of these outcomes during the growth of a mentoring relationship.

            Mentoring is far more than providing advice on the tenure process.  According to Bode (1999, p. 119), a mentor is “a person who serves as guide or sponsor – one who looks after, advises, protects, and takes a special interest in another’s development” (see also Zey, 1984, p. 7).  Mentoring is not a natural set of skills for most people, rather knowledge about “good mentoring” usually needs to be acquired.

            A faculty mentor is not responsible for the ultimate success of their mentee.  Instead, mentoring relationships are meant to facilitate opportunities to exchange information and allow both mentor and mentee to learn from each other.  Unlike mentoring graduate students, for whom the advisor plays a strong role in the direction taken by their graduate student, faculty-faculty mentoring is about providing advice, yet mentees remain accountable for their own decisions and academic success. 

            Mentorship typically begins during a period of time referred to as orientation. Here, new faculty members are oriented to the particulars of the institution and unit in which they work – they need to become acquainted with the university.  Activities surrounding orientation usually last for two to three years after a new employee enters an organization.  Most universities have their own institutional culture, including specific expectations and norms for faculty, and facilitating adjustment to this new culture is part of orientation. Although the mentorship period lasts beyond orientation, it is particularly important during this period of time to strongly orient new faculty to their environment. As part of the orientation process, the college will host periodic junior faculty seminars and AHS Teaching Academy meetings that cover an array of topics relevant to developing a successful academic career at the University of Illinois.

BEST PRACTICES

  1. It is important for newly hired faculty members to be paired with a department mentor within one month of his or her start date. Department heads are in positions to understand the needs of new faculty members and to match new faculty with a departmental mentor.  Faculty members, including Emeritus, have talents and life experiences that may match the needs of a new faculty member, and be suitable as a mentor. 
  1. Re-visiting the assignment of mentoring relationships at least once per year is a good idea for mentees, mentors, and unit heads to consider.  As careers evolve, mentees encounter various situations that pose specific questions for them, and they benefit from an expanding set of conversations that may require a change in mentors.  In addition, specific mentoring pairs may not function well or not be effective at guiding a mentee.  It is appropriate for mentees, mentors, and department heads to have periodic conversations on the effectiveness of mentoring relationships and identify needs for an additional mentor or a change in mentor-mentee relationships. As an option, Department Heads may want to consider the first year assignment of mentee-mentor pairs as a temporary assignment, and re-consider the pairing at the end of the year.
  1. Diversity issues should be considered throughout the mentoring process, particularly in the selection of a department mentor for a newly hired faculty member and in facilitating contacts across campus that may be helpful to mentees.
  1. Like other service activity or advising of graduate students, mentoring activity takes systematic effort and is worthwhile to recognize as part of annual evaluations of faculty. It is appropriate for both mentor and mentee to include information on their mentoring activities within their annual report (similar to identifying graduate students).
  1. A good starting point for mentoring relationships is a plan of action drafted by the mentee that outlines expectations for his or her scholarship over the short and long term future. This plan could be developed in consultation with a mentor, and revised periodically.  A plan of action functions as a working document to help guide mentoring discussions.
  1. The frequency of meetings between mentors and mentees depends on the needs and nature of each relationship. It is advised to meet on a regular basis, such as once per month during the first year, and as needed thereafter.
  1. The college hosts periodic seminars for junior faculty on topics related to teaching, research, and service through the AHS Teaching Academy and its “brown bag” seminar series. In addition, the college hosts periodic seminars for all faculty members to improve mentoring skills and on topics that would strengthen and support mentoring relationships.  
  1. Either mentors or mentees may have reasons to take initiative to arrange meetings with each other and be proactive in directing the topics for discussion.
  1. Although there are formal mentoring relationships assigned by department heads, faculty members also are encouraged to seek advice and support from other faculty even though those individuals are not formally assigned as a mentor or may be at other institutions.  Faculty members are expected to provide advice to new faculty to assist with their orientation and informal mentoring.  Whether or not assigned as a mentor, all faculty members have responsibilities to build relationships with new faculty.
  1. Meetings between mentor and mentee could be formal and informal, sometimes with specific points to cover, and at other times open to a range of discussion topics.  Meetings in one’s office, coffee spots, or over lunch provide different venues that allow relationships to expand and may include other colleagues.
  1. Topics for conversations between mentors and mentees include:
    • Annual plan of work
    • Facilitating contacts with scholars and enhancing a mentee’s research network, including introductions to some rising influential scholars in the field
    • Graduate student issues
    • Developing research identity regarding grant submissions and manuscript preparation
    • Discipline specific points regarding building leadership within one’s research identity
    • Facilitating smooth inter-personal relationships in department
    • Socialization into department and campus culture
    • Annual faculty report, and promotion and tenure documents
    • Balance between teaching, research, and service
    • Balance between job, family, personal, and other activities
    • Career coaching
    • Teaching, lecture delivery, syllabi construction, student conduct, grading, and so forth
    • Social support
    • Stress management
    • Time management
    • Mentor as modeling behavior for mentee

SHARING INFORMATION ABOUT MENTORING

            These best practices are suggested for departments to adapt in contexts of their own mentoring policies.  Each department has its own culture and may choose to implement their mentoring program in distinct ways.  Faculty and department heads are expected to share information with each other about effective mentoring and strategies they find useful.  The Dean’s Office will hold periodic “brown bags” to stimulate conversations about faculty mentoring, ways to improve mentoring relationships, and various approaches to implement the above best practices.

 
REFERENCES

Bode, R. (1999). “Mentoring and collegiality.”  In R. Menges and Associates (Eds)  Faculty in New Jobs, pp. 118-144.  San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Boice, R. (1992). “Lessons learned about mentoring.”  In M. Sorcinelli & A. Austin (Eds) Developing New and Junior Faculty, pp. 51-62.  San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Jacob, H. (1997). “Mentoring:  The forgotten fourth leg of the academic stool.”  Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine, 129, 5, 486.

Johnson, B. (2007).  On Being a Mentor:  A guide for higher education faculty.  Mahwah, NJ:  Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc. Publishers.

Moody, J. (2004).  Faculty Diversity:  Problems and Solutions.  New York:  Routledge-Falmer.

Sands, R., Parson, L., & Duane, J.  (1991). “Faculty mentoring faculty in a public university.”  Journal of Higher Education, 62, 2, 174-193.

Schockett, M. & Haring-Hidore, M. (1985). “Factor analytic support for psychosocial and vocational mentoring functions.”  Psychological Reports, 57, 2, 627-630.

Zey, M. (1984).  The Mentor Connection:  Strategic alliances in corporate life.  Homewood, IL:  Dow Jones-Irwin.