How to Be an Effective Mentor
As a mentor helping talented junior faculty succeed at UAlbany, you’ll have a hand in shaping the future of your department and institution. You’ll also make professional connections, engage in stimulating conversations, and find new enthusiasm for and perspective on your work.
An effective mentor acts as a resource to their mentees by sharing their knowledge of the norms, values and procedures of their department and institution. They value their mentees as people, maintain their confidentiality and work to develop mutual trust and respect.
They listen actively to what is being said and how it is being said, asks open, supportive questions and provides constructive feedback.
Effective mentors are accessible, help their mentees solve their own problems, rather than simply giving them directions, and focus on their mentees’ development, resisting the urge to produce a clone.
Success in mentorship also hinges on good planning and good habits. Review these guidelines to prepare:
Be sure you know what your role as a mentor 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.
Schedule regular meetings with your mentee(s) so you can get to know them and their circumstances.
Start out with easy topics so that when your mentee eventually faces a challenge or concern your relationship is already established, allowing for a productive conversation about solutions.
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 suggesting discussion topics for your meetings and asking your mentee(s) how things are going in their research, teaching and service obligations. Don’t take, “Oh, things are going great,” as a final answer. Gently ask for more details, especially at the beginning of your relationship.
You can also engage in less formal communications, like sending a quick email or stopping by your mentee’s office to say hi, to keep in touch.
Your primary job as a mentor is to offer your mentee(s) “insider’s advice” about the department, campus and profession. Think about what you wish you had known earlier in your career.
Share information about career development and support services on campus, such as:
Institute for Teaching, Learning and Academic Leadership (ITLAL)
Share your knowledge about informal rules and traditions as well. Introduce your mentee(s) to colleagues they should meet and get to know. And look for opportunities to help your mentee(s) showcase their work.
Communicate with your mentee(s) in ways that encourage them and give them ways to improve.
Give praise when it’s warranted and accompany your congratulations with descriptive statements about how or why something was done well, so your mentee can replicate and build on their success. Likewise, give criticism when it’s warranted but describe the behavior and its results, rather than make judgments.
Most importantly, whenever you offer strategies for improvement, make sure your mentee is empowered to solve their own problem. Simply giving them directions may solve the problem at hand but it won’t help them learn. Brainstorming solutions together and letting your mentee make the final decision will make them stronger in the long run.
Junior faculty members often feel overwhelmed in their first several years, as they simultaneously develop their teaching expertise and research career. Talk to your mentee(s) about their priorities, time management, work-life balance and how to say no in acceptable ways.
These worksheets can help you start those conversations:
Information shared by a mentoring partner is always confidential.
Mentees can’t and won’t take advantage of their mentor’s experience and advice if there’s a possibility their questions or concerns will be shared with other senior faculty members.
Your job is to assist, coach and support your mentee, not evaluate them. And, even if your department has structured an evaluation role into your mentoring relationship, that role is circumscribed by the conventions and timing of the contract renewal or tenure review process.
Occasionally, your mentee may be comfortable with you discussing a particular challenge with a particular set of people who may be able to help.
If your mentee agrees to your sharing a concern or situation that may be detrimental to their career, you should do your best to act as their advocate during those conversations.
Bring possible solutions to the table, so your mentee isn’t just seen as a problem. Intercede carefully, so as not to prejudice others against your mentee, and remember that your mentee is still primarily responsible for their own success.
Beware of “over-mentoring.” It’s tempting to see your career as a template for your mentee’s success. Junior faculty should forge their own path, not follow in your footsteps.
Express caution about unnecessary risks but don’t prevent a mentee from taking a reasonable risk that may develop their career. Creativity and new perspectives will open doors that may not have been available to you and your colleagues.
Above all, avoid confrontation. Remain a source of information and encouragement, rather than a parental or authority figure.
Recognize and evaluate what you can reasonably offer a mentee.
Sometimes mentors feel overwhelmed or inadequate when they don’t have all the answers. But a mentor can’t be everything to everyone, which is why we suggest mentees seek out multiple mentors, both informally and formally.
If you don’t know the answer to a specific question or quandary, you can and should connect a mentee with the right person or office that does have those resources at hand.
You can also meet with other mentors to share information that does not violate confidentiality expectations and brainstorm solutions to challenging situations together.
Ideas for Mentoring Activities
Introduce your mentee to your colleagues, so they can benefit from a range of ideas and perspectives.
Give your mentee a campus tour, pointing out resources and explaining relevant rules, traditions and practices as you go.
Share written policies and instructions on teaching, research and administrative issues, so you can discuss norms, offer advice and answer questions.
Share relevant teaching materials and resources. Talk about how to write a syllabus, how to prepare for lectures, how to create effective teaching materials and exam questions, how to structure assignments, and how to fairly assess students’ learning.
Invite your mentee(s) to observe your classes, then talk about what went well and what you’re working to improve. Observe your mentee’s classes and then provide constructive feedback.
Attend a workshop offered by the Institute for Teaching, Learning and Academic Leadership (ITLAL), Information Technology Services (ITS), the University Libraries or the Libraries’ Innovate Make Create Center.
Talk about how to write research articles, conference papers and grants, how to handle co-authors in a dossier, how to get editors’ attention and how to get feedback on a paper or grant. If you're in the same discipline, suggest appropriate journals for publication.
Discuss potential sources of funding and support. Share information about the Faculty Research Awards Program and the Dr. Nuala McGann Drescher Diversity and Inclusion Leave Program, if appropriate.
Give advice on relevant service opportunities, administrative duties and committee work. Consider your mentee’s interests as you help them choose obligations strategically.
Ask your mentee(s) to complete the Reflecting on Your Goals worksheet and/or Planning Short- & Long-term Goals worksheet, then talk about their answers together.
Talk about your own experiences with setting priorities, managing time, handling stress and balancing your workload effectively.
Exchange CVs with your mentee(s), then discuss career paths and possibilities.
Discuss about the formal and informal steps involved in preparing for tenure and promotion, what that process looks like at UAlbany, and how to build a tenure file.
Talk about student issues, including advising, working with and supervising graduate students, confronting instances of academic dishonesty, and recruiting undergraduate and graduate students.
Offer information on how to find and get nominated for fellowships, grants and awards, how to select and be involved in conferences, and how to organize a research group.
Discuss how to raise and handle concerns, issues or problems in the department.
Some mentoring partners keep things strictly professional, while others prefer to discuss personal interests as well as professional goals. Complete a Mentoring Partnership Agreement and sharing your responses with your mentoring partners to ensure you come to an agreement on expectations.
Talk about family and work-life balance issues, including childcare and eldercare responsibilities and options.
Share what kinds of art, sports or music you enjoy, what hobbies you have and what traditions your family celebrates.
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. As a mentor, not being needed as much or as often can feel disappointing but remember that it’s a sign of your success.
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. These activities help mentees think strategically about their careers.
Often, mentoring relationships begin to draw apart after a year or two. 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 does your mentee 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 your mentee may gain independence and connect with other colleagues.
Mentors can sometimes feel hurt or forgotten when a partnership cools, given how much time and effort they have invested. Try not to take these normal changes personally. Instead, celebrate that your mentee has developed their own direction and confidence. Your work here is done.