by Dr. Sarah Ruth Jacobs
For most colleges, the orientation for new faculty members is arranged by the department chair and may consist of a few informal meetings and the distribution of a handbook and other supplementary material. In contrast, approximately one in four colleges have formalized and uniform faculty mentorship programs across all departments.
Research shows that mentorship programs for faculty have numerous benefits. A literature review by Dr. Shane P. Dessell et al. found that “Formal mentoring programs have been associated with faculty member job satisfaction, commitment, reductions in turnover, and productivity. The detractors of formal mentoring programs argue that informal, ‘self-germinating,’ or ‘organic’ mentoring relationships are more likely to last; however, when structured appropriately, formal mentoring programs are successful. Further, the existence of formal mentoring programs and the inevitable informal mentoring that occurs among colleagues are not mutually exclusive.” Close and early mentorship of faculty may, in turn, improve student outcomes, as — through their mentors — faculty can better become acquainted with the unique needs and strengths of the student body and be introduced to faculty and student resources and protocols.
New faculty from underrepresented backgrounds can gain a great deal from the guidance and support of mentorship. Metro State University offers a Faculty of Color Mentorship Program. The program’s coordinator, Dr. Nantawan Lewis, states that they “have successfully built a safe and supportive community for faculty of color (FOC) that serves their unmet needs. The program was initiated by FOC and governed by FOC. Through group mentoring and one-on-one mentoring, the program provides strategic support to FOC to attain tenure and promotion, and enhance the university’s capacity to serve students of color and diverse student population in the Twin Cities.”
Models of Mentorship
Here is a summary of some of the most common models for mentorships and their strengths and weaknesses:
- One-on-one mentorship with an advanced faculty mentor. The department chair will usually assign new faculty a mentor based on research interests and will require that the mentor and mentee meet a certain number of times. This model is simple enough to implement, but the mentee may need to seek out additional opportunities for informal mentorship or may be “stuck” with a less-than-ideal mentor.
- One-on-one mentorship with a near-peer mentor. The department chair will assign new faculty a mentor who is in more of a peer position. Sometimes a new faculty member can get a better sense of the current state of the department and service expectations from someone who is a peer. Tenure guidelines and expectations may have recently changed, and it is possible that a peer mentor will be more aware of these types of shifts. Still, the new faculty may miss out on some of the wisdom and deeper institutional knowledge of a long-tenured faculty member.
- Group Mentorship Models. In these types of models, new faculty may be assigned multiple mentors or be included in a less hierarchical group that includes mentees, peer figures, and more advanced mentors. Group models, or mentoring networks, can remove some of the pressure from the mentor-mentee relationship, and it can give mentees more freedom of choice regarding who to interact with and the depth and type of these interactions. Organizing larger-scale groups and making sure that everyone in the groups has the opportunity to get to know one another involves a great deal of planning and coordination, including sometimes across departments.
- Sponsorship. This kind of mentorship, which is mentioned in Columbia University’s Guide to Best Practices in Faculty Mentoring, often gets overlooked. An advanced or peer faculty mentor can invite a newer faculty member to partake or collaborate in a form of professional activity, such as writing an article or engaging in original research. While professionally rewarding, this type of mentorship should involve a careful agreement on the part of all parties concerning how workload and attribution will be shared.
The following are some research-driven strategies that one should consider when implementing a faculty mentorship program:
- Mentorship programs should codify the purpose, aims, and timeline of the mentor-mentee relationship as much as possible. The University of Colorado at Denver has a Tenure-Track Faculty Mentoring Resource Guide that formalizes the agenda for each of four mentor-mentee meetings over the mentee’s first academic year, with the addition of a fifth and final celebratory meeting.
- Generally, based on mentee feedback, the model of one-on-one mentorship has been found to be less satisfactory than having the opportunity to interact with multiple mentors. Whenever possible, those administering mentorship programs should give new faculty access to multiple potential mentors and encourage opportunities for informal mentorship via casual gatherings. For example, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst offers tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty a variety of types of meetings with different stakeholders.
- Mentorship assignments should protect mentees’ interests by asking mentors to ensure confidentiality with regard to mentees’ personal and professional concerns. Whenever possible, conflicts of interest should be avoided. The Educational Advisory Board suggests that mentors should not be placed on mentees’ tenure committees, for example.
- Women faculty, minority faculty, and faculty from underrepresented groups should, if possible, be given an opportunity to work with a mentor who shares their background. Many campuses have their own networks for underrepresented scholars, such as the Sankofa Black Staff and Faculty Alliance at Carnegie Mellon or the International Faculty Network at the University of North Texas.
- Facilitating mentorships across departments and even at other colleges can help enrich mentees’ experience and avoid conflicts of interest. Emory University’s Center for Faculty Development and Excellence uses a voluntary Faculty Mentorship Network to connect new faculty to mentors across departments and even across different campuses.
- Mid-career and adjunct faculty also benefit from formal and informal mentorship opportunities.
- Often mentorship programs are unfunded, so it is important to make sure that mentors understand the required time commitment, and if possible, mentors should receive a stipend, some form of workload release, and credit toward tenure for their service.
- When planning a mentorship program, the program’s desired outcomes and a plan to assess those outcomes is vital to defining, proving, and improving the program’s success. In their article titled “A Checklist for the Development of Faculty Mentorship Programs,” Anandi V. Law et al. write that “Meaningful data can be obtained as early as 1-2 years post-implementation and should be used to enhance mentor-protégé pairing, overall program structure and support, as well as resource allocation. Long-term measures such as faculty productivity, time to and attainment of career advancement, and overall faculty retention can be used to evaluate program success.”
Additionally, chairs and administrators can strive to create an atmosphere that is conducive to mentorship. This might involve events that encourage the sharing of faculty research and by explicitly weighing collaborative work and mentorship in tenure evaluations.
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