Elements of Effective Mentoring

Roles and Responsibilities

Man on left explaining a concept to a man on the right.

Mentors and mentees are roles that carry with them a set of expectations and responsibilities.  Mentoring is different from performance review and personnel management. While the latter is an important component in helping a faculty member understand their tenure path and expectations, the former is a much broader and holistic approach to assisting a faculty member to reach his/her goals.


1.      Be an active listener. Mentors should listen and provide their full attention to the mentee. Take notes, ask questions, repeat or ‘mirror back’ what your mentees have told you to ensure you understand the problems.

2.      Focus the session on pressing issues. At the start, find out what issues are at the top of the mentee’s list. During the meeting pay attention to the emotion and energy of the mentee to determine what matters most to him or her, and what may be a source of discouragement or feelings of being overwhelmed.

3.      Ask direct but open-ended questions. Ask questions that call for a reflective response, not yes or no answers.

4.      Try not to interrupt. Paraphrase or repeat what the mentee says to confirm that your understanding is accurate.

5.      Tell your story. If the mentee wants to hear the mentor's experiences of similar challenges, it may be valuable to share this experience with the mentee.

6.      Share the conversation. Mentors can and should impart wisdom and expertise, but they should have a give-and-take with the mentee about how s/he views the situation. The mentor should be willing to step out of his or her comfort zone to try new things, consider new thoughts, and think ‘outside the box’ for personal and professional growth.

7.       Follow through on your commitments. If mentors intend to provide some service to the mentee, such as providing feedback on a grant application or resume,  they need to follow-through on the commitment.

8.      Be encouraging and action-oriented. Help the mentee arrive at a plan of action for a goal that is attainable. In subsequent meetings, provide constructive feedback that is specific, descriptive, and nonjudgmental.

9.      Honor confidentiality. Conversations between mentor and mentee must be considered private.

10.     Be an organizational steward.  By working to facilitate success in others, good mentors see their role as leaving a lasting legacy on the department.


1.      Mentees must work with mentor. Effective mentoring does not occur through top-down approaches.  Mentees who desire mentoring need to be full participants in the process.  Mentees should clarify what they want. Before meeting with your mentors, mentees might consider writing down specific expectations and the role the mentee wants the mentor to play in your career.

2.      Think inside and outside the department/school. Great mentors can be found in a variety of places, so mentees might try looking outside their current immediate environment.

3.      Set up a meeting. Once a mentor has identified or has been assigned a potential mentor, the mentee should ask to meet and discuss a possible mentoring relationship. Asking for mentoring is an important step to make certain that both mentor and mentee are clear on the terms. This meeting should take place somewhere that is mutually comfortable and where you can speak in confidence.

4.      Be clear with the mentor. Once a mentee has found someone who will serve as a mentor, the mentee should make sure to be clear about his/her needs, expectations, availability, and meeting schedules.

Department Chair (or Associate Dean)

When overseeing mentoring at the department level, the chair should:

1.   Communicate. Discuss importance of mentoring with senior faculty members and include recognition of their mentoring in their evaluations.

2.   Provide opportunities. Enhance the mentoring skills of senior faculty members through professional development workshops, conferences or mentoring by the chair.

3.   Establish formal pairs.  Create a formal mentor or multiple mentors for each new faculty member. This includes new faculty members who join the department with tenure may be paired with a mentor.

4.   Follow up. Check in regularly with mentor/mentee pairs to ensure mentoring is occurring. Such follow-up can include individual, separate meetings with the mentor and the mentee, as well as short written mentoring evaluation forms.

5.   Address issues. Be active in addressing problems discovered and making changes to mentor/mentee relationships and practices as needed.

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