Finalized by P&T Committee April 12 2021
Approved by Executive Committee April 14 2021
Approved by Faculty May 10 2021
What is mentoring?
A positive culture of mentoring at the Odum School of Ecology is essential to support a diverse and effective faculty. Faculty mentoring can provide strategic guidance to help advance a junior faculty member’s career and can include sharing advice on successfully navigating the tenure process, reviewing and commenting on grant applications, specific input regarding teaching, supervising graduate students, and how the School functions. This type of advice and guidance can help advance a faculty member’s career.
A second facet of mentoring—which is equally indispensable and more personal in nature— involves providing emotional support and guidance on topics that relate to the workplace. For example, this may include advice about School politics, how to interact with difficult colleagues, or challenges with advising students, or helping a mentee prioritize their obligations to research, teaching, service and work/life balance. Here, the mentor is serving as a confidante, a role that can be invaluable in helping a junior colleague acclimate to a new academic environment and a new job. Such support may be decisive in retaining a faculty member who is dealing with an interpersonal conflict at work or a challenging family situation.
Assignment of mentors
As soon as a junior faculty has accepted the formal offer, the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs (ADAA) should solicit from them a list of 3 possible mentors, from which one would be selected, if possible. If no appropriate mentor exists in the School, faculty may identify a mentor in another unit, or through the Faculty Learning Communities. The pairing should be communicated formally to both the faculty member and their mentor.
Term of mentors
We recommend that formal mentoring should continue up to promotion to Associate Professor/Academic Professional/Associate Research Scientist/Senior Lecturer.
How should mentoring work?
The mechanics of any mentoring partnership should be flexible and agreed upon by the involved parties. Our recommendation is that at the first mentoring meeting, the pair should arrive at a clear understanding of how frequently they envisage meeting (recognizing that this may change, depending on circumstances), and their respective expectations regarding the mentoring process. A mentor-mentee compact may be drafted at this stage, if desired.
Responsibilities of the mentor
The mentor is intended to serve as a source of supportive guidance and constructive criticism and, potentially, as a confidante. In particular they should:
- Ensure that the mentee knows the School’s expectations for promotion and tenure and the kinds of topics that typically crop up in discussion of dossiers. In particular, they should discuss what constitutes excellence in research and teaching, and how this is generally evaluated.
- Provide strategic advice: What is a reasonable number of conference presentations and departmental seminars per year? How to weigh the relative merits/costs of writing a book? What authorship models exist and is one preferred by the School? What is a reasonable approach to submitting individual versus collaborative grant applications? What is valued and what is rewarded at the School? Is it advisable for junior faculty to continue to publish with their graduate/postdoc advisors? Would it be beneficial to serve on the editorial board of a journal? What is a sensible service contribution? How to maintain a balanced teaching portfolio? How to effectively manage a growing lab?
- Periodically review the progress of their mentee.
- Help junior faculty members set priorities among the demands on their time. Specific goals, including teaching, submitting grant applications, conference presentations, journal articles, mentoring and service commitments.
- Help junior faculty recognize and attract good graduate students and postdocs. The key to early success is having good trainees with whom to work. Similarly, a struggling graduate student or postdoc can consume a lot of valuable time.
- Attend annual evaluation meetings with the Dean (strongly advisable).
- During discussions of the mentee’s accomplishments (eg faculty meetings, annual evaluations), the mentor is expected to serve as an objective and well-informed evaluator, rather than an obligatory advocate, per se.
Responsibilities of the mentee
Mentees should be proactive about their mentoring. Mentoring failures may occur through inadequate communication rather than apathy or negligence. Mentees should therefore actively solicit input and advice from their mentors by scheduling meetings as frequently as they deem useful, though we recommend at least once every 6 months. If their mentor is away for an extended period, the mentee should confer with the ADAA to seek a replacement. Similarly, if the mentoring arrangement is not working satisfactorily for the mentee, they should feel free to talk with the ADAA about a change. We also encourage mentees to be proactive in seeking advice and information from any colleagues within the School (or beyond) in addition to their assigned mentor.
In addition to the topics outlined in the section on mentor responsibilities, we suggest the mentee consider the following questions:
- Are mentor-mentee conversations confidential?
- How important is mentoring undergraduate/graduate students? How many should one expect to supervise? How do you select good students? What do you look for? How many dissertation or thesis committees should I serve on?
- How much administrative committee work should I do? What committees should I seek out/avoid? How do I evaluate the pros and cons of service requests and politely decline those that would not be a good fit?
- How important is professional service outside the university? What are desirable service venues?
Meeting with the Promotion & Tenure Committee
We recommend that junior faculty meet annually with the Promotion & Tenure Committee, to assess progress. Faculty mentors may be present at this meeting, at the request of the mentee. The committee will submit a written report to OSE Dean as part of the annual evaluation process. The written report will not be part of any future promotion dossier.
Certain topics ought to be addressed at the School level, perhaps via an initial session with the Dean and School administration. These meetings may extend to the Undergraduate and Graduate Coordinators and the Business office to inform new faculty regarding procedures for teaching assignments, how the graduate program (including student recruitment) works, how to submit grant applications and financial management.
Other ideas for consideration
- The junior faculty may consider meeting periodically (perhaps for lunch) for peer mentoring/discussion. Ideally, the OSE would cover one lunch per year, depending on availability of funds.
- At other institutions, an annual meeting among mentors or tenured faculty to discuss progress and/or issues arising with mentees has been successful. This would provide a venue for mentors to exchange general notes, and also an impetus for mentors to connect with their mentees.