Guidelines & Resources for Mentees

How to Be a Successful Mentee 

In a successful mentoring relationship, mentees feel encouraged to take new directions and think more strategically about their career.  

Mentees receive important information about the norms, values and procedures of their department and institution, connect with someone you can go to with questions or for feedback, and share your own perspectives and ideas. 

Success in a mentoring relationship hinges on good planning and good habits. Review these guidelines to prepare: 

Find Multiple Mentors

One mentor can’t be everything to everyone, which is why we suggest mentees seek out multiple mentors, both informally and formally.  

Seek out senior faculty in your department, school or college, as well as senior faculty from other institutions. Your first mentor may be able to suggest additional people or support networks, if you don’t know where to start. 

If a mentor doesn’t know the answer to a specific question or quandary, ask them if they know what person or office may be able to help you. 

You can also develop a peer network, either on campus or nationally. Speaking with other junior faculty members will help you feel less alone because you can offer each other advice and information. Connecting with friends from graduate school may be a good place to start. 

Whatever your approach to mentorship, know that your success is important to your department, your school or college and the University. You never have to go it alone. 

Set Expectations

Be sure you know what your role as a mentee will be and what you are comfortable with in your mentoring relationship. 

Some mentoring partners keep things strictly professional, while others prefer to discuss personal interests as well as professional goals. You may choose to only meet on campus, or you may opt for an off-campus option, like a coffee shop or café. You should also consider what you expect from your mentoring partner(s) and what they may expect from you. 

We recommend mentors and mentees each complete a Mentoring Partnership Agreement and then share their responses to ensure you come to an agreement on expectations.  

Building a strong foundation will help you handle problems as they arise. 

Additionally, don’t get discouraged. Being paired with a stranger can feel somewhat artificial at first. Through no fault of the mentor or mentee, some relationships don’t jell over time and come to no-fault conclusions.  

That possibility is less likely, though, if you start a mentoring relationship with a frank, honest conversation and continue to talk about what you each want and need throughout your partnership.

Communicate Regularly

Successful mentoring requires trust, which you’ll develop as you get to know each other, so schedule regular meetings with your mentoring partner(s). 

Mentees may be hesitant to “bother” mentors with “silly questions,” while mentors who aren’t being asked for help may be hesitant to reach out. Under-communicating with your mentoring partner will lessen the impact and usefulness of your relationship.  

Be proactive by asking questions and seeking advice. Talk with your mentor about both your immediate concerns and your goals. Information shared by a mentoring partner is always confidential, unless you agree it’s OK to discuss a particular challenge with specific people who may be able to help. 

Accept constructive feedback. Consider a mentor’s advice as a source of information, not criticism or an attack, and keep an open mind. 

And, lastly, learn about your mentoring partner. Ask them about their teaching, service and research, as well as their history in the department and, if appropriate, their life outside the office. Better understanding their world will help you better understand their advice. 

Focus on Development

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed as you develop your teaching expertise and research career. That’s why your mentoring partner(s) are a valuable resource.  

Talk to your mentor(s) about your priorities, time management, work-life balance and how to say no in acceptable ways. 

These worksheets can help you start those conversations: 

Establishing and prioritizing your goals will help you be realistic about what you can reasonably achieve without burning out. You’ll also be able to better parse the advice you receive, manage stress, make decisions and chart a path forward. 

Stay True to Yourself

Working with a mentor doesn’t mean you’ll become their clone; it means you have an opportunity to tap into their knowledge and experience to better prepare yourself for your own success. 

It’s OK to question what you’re hearing. Listen carefully to all the information offered by senior colleagues, then sift through it and ask yourself a series of questions: 

  • Is this person genuinely interested in your success? 

  • Have they experienced something that may negatively color their advice? 

  • How does this information compare to advice others have shared? 

  • Why might this person have a different perspective from others and what can I learn from that? 

  • Where else can I find relevant information? 

  • How does this advice align with my own goals and values? 

A healthy mentoring relationship empowers mentees to ask for advice and then make their own decisions. 

Don’t scramble to simply do as you're told, because the path your mentor took may not be the right path for you. Instead, make a choice that fulfills your passions, values and goals.


Questions to Ask 

We’ve compiled a list of questions new faculty members may want to ask their mentors, peers, department chairs and deans. Use this list strategically — you don’t have to get all these questions answered at once.

Consider asking the same question to a few senior colleagues. Whether you receive a consistent answer or multiple valuable perspectives on the same issue, you’ll be better equipped to make your own decision. 

About the Department
  • How is my department organized and how are decisions made? 

  • Are there any interpersonal or departmental dynamics that would be helpful for me to understand? 

  • What resources are available with the department? 

  • Does the department have support staff? What are their duties? 

  • What balance between teaching, research and service should I aim to strike? 

  • How should I balance tenure and promotion requirements with departmental expectations? 

  • How important is the Faculty Activity Reports (FAR) for merit, reappointment, tenure and promotion decisions in our department? 

  • How should I document my successes and present them for merit, reappointment, tenure and promotion decisions? 

  • Do I need to read between the lines when reviewing the chair’s recommendations on my FARs? 

  • How does the department fit into its school or college, in terms of culture and personnel expectations? Should I be taking two sets of standards into account as I plan my professional development? 

  • How much time do you suggest I spend in my office, being visible in the department? Is it acceptable/appropriate to work from home? 

  • What department, school/college and University events should I be sure to attend? 

About Research Expectations & Resources
  • What are the expectations for bringing in grant funds? What help is available for writing proposals, preparing budgets, etc.? How much time should I spend seeking funds? 

  • What kind of publication record is considered excellent in my department and school/college? How many refereed articles should I have and in which journals? What is the attitude toward online journals? Do I need to publish a book? 

  • What is the attitude toward journal articles or chapters in edited collections? May material published in one place (such as a conference, workshop, etc.) be submitted to another journal? How much work is necessary to make it a “new” publication? 

  • How is collaborative work viewed within the department and school/college? Do co-authored articles count in my discipline? Is being first co-author considered important? How is alphabetical listing of authors viewed? Should I put my graduate students’ names on my paper?  

  • Do papers and presentations for conferences and workshops count as research in my discipline? 

  • Should I give talks within my department? How are colloquia organized in my department? How can I best publicize my work within the department? 

  • What conferences should I go to? Is it better to attend national conferences or smaller ones? How much travel is allowed, expected and/or required? What funding is available for travel expenses and from what sources? How else can I get the type of exposure I need for good tenure letters? 

  • What is the attitude toward missing classes in order to attend conferences? What is the process for communicating this and/or arranging alternatives for my students? 

  • Would it be advisable to further develop my dissertation or branch out into a new area of research? 

  • What research documentation will I need for my tenure file? When should I begin collecting those materials? 

  • What research awards should I know about? Where can I find the guidelines and deadlines? 

About Teaching Expectations & Resources
  • What is the average teaching profile for junior faculty in my department and school/college? 

  • How many independent studies should I agree to sponsor? How should I choose them? 

  • How can I determine what the content of a course should be? Does the department share syllabi, assignments and other teaching materials? 

  • If I teach undergraduate courses, what resources are available for grading, section leadership, etc.? Does the department or school/college take the nature of the course when analyzing student evaluations of my teaching? 

  • Does the department use student evaluations and how? Does the department use any other methods beyond student ratings to assess teaching effectiveness? 

  • How does my department handle advising? How many undergraduate student advisees should I have and how much time should I spend advising them? What campus resources are available if I have questions about departmental and institutional degree requirements? 

  • How many graduate student advisees should I have? How much time and effort should I invest in working with graduate students? How do I identify talented graduate students and how aggressive should I be in recruiting them? Do I need to find resources for then and what should I expect from them? How do I promote my graduate students’ work to the rest of the department or school/college? 

  • What is an appropriate way to help a student who is struggling with course work or a personal issue? What resources are available to students? What should I suggest? 

  • What kinds of files should I keep on my students and the courses I’ve taught? 

  • What am I expected to teach? Should I request to teach service-learning courses? Should I teach the same course, stay within a specific area or teach around? Should I develop a new course, such as a new undergraduate course or a specialized course in my research area? 

  • How do I establish an excellent teaching record? What teaching resources are available at the department, school/college and University levels? 

  • Does my department have guidelines for grading? What is the usual frequency of exams and graded assignments? 

  • What teaching and advising documentation will I need for my tenure file? When should I begin collecting those materials? 

  • Will I need to include peer observations in my tenure file? What’s the best way to ask for them? 

About Service & Outreach Expectations
  • What kind of service to the department, school/college and University is expected of me? 

  • Are there committees I should seek out as a new faculty member? Are there any I should turn down if I am asked to serve? 

  • What kind of community service is expected of me and how much? 

  • What kind of outreach (recruiting students, representing the University at career fairs, etc.) is expected of me? 

  • When should I begin service and outreach? How much should I take on? 

  • How much service to the profession is recommended or expected? What forms should it take? 

  • How do I develop and document an excellent record of service and outreach? 

About Personal & Professional Concerns
  • What resources are available for meeting and socializing with other new faculty members? 

  • Where can I get help with dual-career issues, childcare and other personal concerns? What kind of support is available to me through the University and our surrounding community? What are the policies for stopping the tenure clock, requesting parental leave, etc.? 

  • Where can I get advice on balancing my professional life (including my teaching, research and service responsibilities) and my personal life (including time for family, leisure, and cultural/civic responsibilities)? 

  • How should I say “no” when I need to? How do I know when to say “no”? 

  • How should I document any controversial matters or concerns? 


Stages of a Mentoring Relationship 

All mentoring relationships change as the mentee’s career needs are gradually met, with a successful mentee becoming increasingly independent.  

In the first three to six months, mentoring partners get to know each other, build trust and set reasonable expectations. This stage lays the foundation for a strong, beneficial relationship. 

The middle of a mentoring partnership is typically the most rewarding time for mentors and mentees. Mentoring partners are comfortable asking questions, sharing concerns and disappointments, and even challenging each other’s ideas. Throughout this stage, you’ll have opportunities to think strategically about your career. 

Often, mentoring relationships begin to draw apart after a year or two, as you become more comfortable handling challenges and judging situations on your own. At this stage, it’s important to discuss how you wish to continue your relationship and update your expectations. 

Be sure to check in on the progress of your relationship periodically. Ask yourself: 

  • What’s going well? What needs to be changed? 

  • How do we each feel about the format of our mentoring relationships? 

  • What activities or topics of conversation have we not yet explored? 

  • What areas do you still need guidance in? 

Eventually, mentors and mentees will begin to regard one another as equals. Your relationship may continue productively and collegially, perhaps even producing new collaborations, or you may gain independence and connect with other colleagues. 

Mentors can sometimes feel disappointed when a partnership cools, given how much time and effort they have invested. Be sure to honor their generosity and, if possible, continue to nurture your relationship.