Mentoring for New Faculty
While faculty members work independently, they require collaboration to be successful, especially when they are new to a university or the teaching profession. Along with learning basic information about RIT and their teaching role, they also need guidance on how to approach their career.
There is a wide range of support resources for new faculty at RIT, but faculty must also realize that they must often act as "self-agents" in finding and taking advantage of networking opportunities, such as participating in various development programs. The self-agency that you show in finding and connecting with mentors—as well as acting in a mentoring role with peers—can accelerate your integration into the RIT community.
By connecting with multiple mentors, you can gain a variety of perspectives. Your mentoring network may include peers, administrators, experienced faculty and even external individuals like journal editors, members of a professional association, or your thesis advisor. You might think of your mentoring network as your personal "board of directors" -- a term used for the idea of thinking broadly about who your mentors are and who your role models are going to be in life, and "Just like any good board, the people you choose should have different contributions to make to your thinking" (Claman, P., 2010).
Finding A Traditional Mentor
Identifying a mentor for a one-to-one relationship may come from meeting an individual and "feeling" that s/he has the experience, knowledge and temperament that you are looking for. Also, consider the commonalities that are important to you from a mentor:
- Does s/he have to work in the same areas of research/scholarship?
- Is it important that s/he is interested and connected to the research/scholarship you want to pursue?
- Is it important that you share similar backgrounds?
- Is it important that you share similar values?
- Does your mentor’s image or reputation on campus and in the department matter to you? In what ways?
Guidelines for Successful Mentoring Relationships
Traditional Mentoring Relationships
While your mentor provides advice and guidance, being a protégé is an active role as well. Your efforts to clarify your needs, along with your willingness to accept suggestions or criticism are vital to a successful mentoring relationship.
It will be easier for your mentor if you make your needs and goals explicit:
- What kind of guidance do you want?
- What are your priority goals?
- What kind of working relationship do you envision?
- What are your expectations for introductions and connections to others who can assist you?
This will help your potential mentor decide whether the two of you are a good fit before working on your ongoing learning and development.
You should also be prepared to disclose information about yourself, including your challenges and strengths, so your mentor has an idea of what might be required to help you achieve your goals.
Your meetings with your mentor are a key part of building and maintaining your relationship and making professional progress. You should plan for each meeting so it is time well-spent for both of you. Since your mentor’s time may be limited, remember that your supervisor (not your mentor) should be your main information source for basic process or policy matters, such as:
- Department grading policies
- Process for reporting grades
- Obtaining a teaching assistant
- Expected office hours
- Services available from department support staff
The First Meeting
Consider your first meeting with your mentor as a “get acquainted” session. You may have dozens of questions and concerns, but instead, focus on addressing broad questions and gaining agreement on how you and your mentor can best work together. Some initial questions include:
- What surprised you the most as a new faculty member?
- What do you wish you had known when you first started out as a new faculty member?
- What is the most important lesson you learned during your first year at RIT?
- What did you do during your first years that enabled you to become a more capable faculty member?
- What experiences were most valuable in shaping how you view your role?
- What department or university events should I be sure to attend? Why?
- Work on getting to know one another better, and make sure you leave time for your mentor to ask about you.
Mentoring is an ongoing process of learning and development, so what you want to talk about at each meeting can change depending on what is going on with you professionally and personally.
A strategy for making the most of your time with your mentor is to have two basic agenda items for each meeting: one with a short-term focus and one with a long-term focus. This double-edged strategy allows you to gain some perspective on immediate issues so you can work through (and past) them, while maintaining momentum toward your larger goal.
- The long-term focus is related to your overarching goal for the mentoring relationship, such as identifying your research agenda and creating a plan to make it a reality.
- The short-term focus may be a recent event or problem where you need help, such as dealing with a problem student, or identifying grant opportunities.
You should have an early discussion about the Statement of Expectations from your department head. If you have not received one, your mentor can still go a long way in helping clarify expectations in the college and at RIT. Another topic of continued guidance will be around building your tenure portfolio or promotional dossier and developing contacts who will be effective supporting references.
Your long-term goals will probably be around one of these areas:
- Teaching excellence
- Gaining tenure
Guidelines for Successful Peer Mentoring
Whether you are part of an established peer mentoring group or simply providing advice to a colleague, you should follow these guidelines to ensure mentoring success:
- Provide constructive feedback rather than pointing out mistakes.
- Be receptive to constructive criticism and willing to try suggestions from others.
- Freely share what you learn, even if through mistakes, with others.
- Be willing to share your connections to networks inside and outside RIT with peers.
- Always maintain confidentiality within the relationship.
- Disclose your own personal experiences when they are relevant.
Actions for Mentees
Being a mentee is an active role. By using the strategies below, you can build a stronger, more productive relationship with all of your mentors.
- Set a regular meeting time and stick to it. If one of you cannot make the regular time, reschedule rather than waiting for the next one.
- Prepare for each meeting. Know what you want to discuss, find out, or explore.
- Be clear and direct about your needs and goals. Your mentor can best help when s/he can address specific issues.
- Be honest about your shortcomings. Sharing mistakes or competency gaps can help your mentor provide guidance that may directly improve your skills.
- Explicitly ask for feedback. It will be much easier for your mentor to give you honest opinions if you provide her or him with an opening.
- Accept feedback with an open mind. A mentor can often provide valuable insight and objective opinions based on his/her extensive experience, but it only has value when you act on it.
- Ask for guidance that enables you to help yourself. The mentor’s role isn’t to “fix” your problems or provide you with all the answers, so focus on identifying additional resources and connections.
- Try the things your mentor suggests. Don’t dismiss advice because it is unfamiliar or pushes you out of your comfort zone.
- Maintain professional boundaries. Don’t expect or try to develop a “personal friendship.”
- Show eagerness and enthusiasm for what the mentor can provide. Let your mentor know that you appreciate his or her effort and insight
- Share credit for your successes. Acknowledge the value your mentor has provided (Waugh, 2002).
Evaluate the Relationship
After you have been working with your mentor for one or two semesters, you may want to evaluate the relationship to determine if you are getting what you need from your mentor.
Questions to consider are:
- Do you meet regularly?
- Do you look forward to your meetings? Does your mentor?
- Are you getting valuable, actionable insight and advice from your mentor?
- Can you identify two or three instances when advice or information you received from your mentor helped you?
- Is your mentor facilitating your integration to RIT?
- Have you made any important or valuable contacts through your mentor?
- Are you dedicated to each other’s success?
- Do you feel a mutually-beneficial partnership?
If your relationship with your mentor is not turning out to be mutually productive, it might be better to end it so you can both find partners that are more suitable. You should not end the relationship abruptly, however—work together to bring the relationship to a positive, if not entirely successful, conclusion (Ensher & Murphy, 2005)..
- Directly but honestly express how the relationship is not working; cite specific examples.
- Recognize what you have accomplished from the relationship and express appreciation for the help you have received.
- Communicate respectfully, and make sure you have enough time to discuss the situation.
- Review and develop a plan for any open issues.
- Continue to maintain confidentiality.