Effective Mentoring

Most junior faculty arrive at UCLA with only a vague idea of what is required to have a successful academic career. It is incumbent on departments and the University administration to provide new and junior faculty with counseling and career advice regarding the organization they have joined, its institutional processes, and their own career trajectory. One way of doing this is through formal and informal mentoring. Mentoring is most effective when it is both formal and informal, and when the process is regularly monitored. Formal mentoring involves the official appointment, by the department chair, of senior faculty as mentors who meet with junior faculty at specified intervals to review progress and future plans. Informal mentoring is more dependent on the naturally occur- ring discussions that take place among faculty.

There are a number of things that should be kept in mind to make the mentoring process as useful as possible. First, the selection of mentors should be made in consultation with the individual to be mentored and, importantly, with an eye to avoiding potential conflicts of interest or personality. All junior faculty should have at least one assigned mentor and required meetings should occur on a regular basis, with a recommended minimum of one meeting per quarter.

Second, the process of mentoring should cover multiple concerns that affect junior faculty. These include some of the following important areas (this is not meant to be an all-inclusive list): (1) How to balance the multiple criteria for advancement (research, teaching, professional engagement, and service); (2) Knowledge of the resources available to assist in improving teaching and/or research; (3) Knowledge of the criteria for evaluation of research, especially the importance of establishing a record of independent creativity; and (4) The criteria for achieving promotion, and how they are concretely applied in the department.

Third, successful mentoring is a process that involves a give and take relationship between the mentor and the individual involved. The mentor should establish a positive and non-judgmental atmosphere to build trust and openness in the relationship, providing feedback in a constructive manner. Mentors should make the right introductions to colleagues on the campus or in the discipline to help establish research collaborations.

There are pitfalls mentors should try to avoid. While one important goal of mentoring is to help determine the kind of career to be pursued, the mentors should be circumspect about imposing their own value judgments regarding a “correct” path to follow. Thus, mentors should not promote their agenda, but provide sound advice. The mentoring process can be problematic when those involved have dual relationships – for example if the mentor is a supervisor of the individual to be mentored or if the mentor is a co-author on a very large proportion of publications. Such circumstances should be avoided, but if that is not possible, the rule is to be on guard about the conflicts of interest. It often is difficult and even intimidating for junior faculty to articulate their questions and their needs under such circumstances; mentors need to be sensitive to this issue.

Finally, the process of mentoring works best when it is monitored. Mentors should provide brief summaries of mentoring discussions to the department chair, and the individual mentored should have access to the substance of these mentoring reports.

For additional information contact the office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Diversity and Development, Christine Littleton at ext. 67411.