Choosing, recruiting, and working with a mentor Dr Kay Guccione

A mentor is someone with whom you can have a good quality conversation, that focuses on your personal and professional development.

Working with a mentor can give you the opportunity to think, plan, and navigate your role, the workings of your institution, and your career path. Having some time to talk things through with a person you trust, supports good decision making.

Below, I have created some video resources (captioned), articles, and templates, that show you how to choose, recruit, and get the most out of working with a mentor. If you are a mentor hoping to learn how develop your practice, take a look here.

Mentoring is a valuable source of development whether you are a member of academic staff with a secure employment contract or more precariously employed as a sessional lecturer or research associate; a new researcher transitioning in to doctoral study; a member of the professional services staff who manage our departments and core facilities and keep the lights on; or one of the huge range of specialists who contribute your expertise as librarians, academic developers, careers advisors, counsellors, strategic planners, disability or welfare advisors and the hundreds of other essential functions of a university.

From the literature, we see evidence that mentoring provides an opportunity for new university staff to make interpersonal connections, enabling informed and supportive professional development and can enhance the development and profile of underrepresented groups in HE.

How can I increase the likelihood of it working out?

To maximise what you get out of mentoring, think about how you can prepare before each meeting: what topics do you want to cover, what planning do you need to do, what problem do you want to solve or what decision do you want to make. See this article on the role of the mentee in making the most of mentoring.

During mentoring sessions work together to set expectations and boundaries. Use this free downloadable template to support you with that.

Be prepared to speak openly (within your established boundaries) and be open minded to suggestions. Afterwards, you can decide for yourself how to proceed, and whether to act on any advice, or not.

It’s the role of the mentee to keep in touch, to feed-back, to follow up and to help your mentor to get it right for you, by giving them some feedback after you meet. If it helps, use the following prompts to craft your feedback:

  • Your key learning from the mentoring session, and why you feel it added value.
  • What you have put into practice since meeting and how it went.
  • What you would like to focus on in the next mentoring session and anything you would like to move away from.

Is your mentor talking more than they are listening?

Look out for this classic mentoring error! If you’ve met your mentor, and find you’re getting too much ‘telling’ and not enough listening, please know this is solvable.

Here is a blog post on expanding on how mentors can develop a repertoire beyond advice, and here’s one on the power of listening. If you feel it would be well received, share it with your mentor as part of your feedback to them. If it wouldn’t be well received – proceed to the step below, and find a new mentor.

You can leave the partnership if it’s not what you want.

Choosing and working with a mentor is an important career decision. Choosing the wrong mentor can hinder your career rather than enhance it and so dedicate some time to reflection on how things are going. There is no need to persist with a mentor you’d rather not work with.

If you meet once, maybe twice, and you aren’t getting what you need, don’t agonise over how to tell them. Simply thank them, and genuinely, for their input. Name something you have achieved as a result of meeting with them. And advise them you are now stepping back to consider what you’ve learned and prioritise for your next steps.

Mentoring, if it is a consciously designed alliance, can be a truly beneficial relationship for both parties and we urge you to seek out people who will be only too happy to share their insight, knowledge and experiences – but also to listen to yours.

find my blog on PhD Supervision here

find my posts on the Hidden Curriculum of Doctoral Education team blog here

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Kay Guccione


Created with images by Joshua Ness - "Coffee Talks" • Christina @ wocintechchat.com - "untitled image" • Kenan Buhic - "First day on a school trip to Prague, we decided to get some McDonald’s. While he was eating and I was still waiting for my food, we cracked a joke together, and it was at that exact time that this picture was shot." • Christina @ wocintechchat.com - "untitled image" • Toa Heftiba - "women talking"