Meaningful Mentorship Event: Recap and Resources

Originally posted here on the Women in Life sciences at Davis (WiLD) blog. Find more mentoring resources at elenasuglia.com/mentoring.html.

During this event we talked about how to cultivate meaningful mentor-mentee relationships, from setting goals and expectations to maintaining long-term relationships. We discussed strategies for establishing, formalizing, and deepening impactful mentorships. The following is a summary of the main points from our discussion, along with a list of mentoring resources.

Anyone who has either mentored or been mentored (or both) knows that these relationships can be fruitful and beneficial to both mentor and mentee. But effective mentoring is really challenging. We couched our discussion about how to effectively mentor within some mentoring pedagogy to provide a structured framework that can help everyone approach mentoring more intentionally and confidently. Our goals for this discussion were to 1) brainstorm specific actions that we can all take to improve our mentoring relationships and 2) share tools and resources that could provide some inspiration or facilitate implementation of proactive, solutions-based mentoring.

Specifically, we focused our discussion on three key components of good mentoring: fostering effective communication, aligning expectations, and addressing equity, inclusion, and diversity in mentoring relationships. For each of these, we discussed tools for setting up a mentoring relationship in a way that makes the relationship more meaningful to both parties.

Communication

As with any aspect of an interpersonal relationship, communication works best when approached with care, thought, and intention. One way to determine the mentor’s and mentee’s communication styles is for each person to take an abbreviated Myers-Briggs personality self-assessment that can allow one to determine where they lie along the extroversion-introversion spectrum. This test is not as exhaustive as the full Myers-Briggs personality test but can at least provide a baseline for proactively identifying how and why communication problems may arise. Partners should also explicitly discuss preferred frequency and methods of communication (email, in person, etc.) early on.

Myers-Briggs abbrev

Adapted by Steve Lee, UC Davis Graduate Diversity Officer for the STEM disciplines

When challenges communicating do occur, one way to approach the issue is to fill out the following National Research and Mentoring Network worksheet to aid with identifying barriers to communication and addressing them.

Communication

Created by the National Research and Mentoring Network.

 

Aligning expectations

Part of clear communication between mentor and mentee is aligning expectations. This is ideally done at the start of the relationship and then updated periodically as the relationship proceeds and each individual’s needs change. A first step could be to take the following questionnaire. Answers will likely vary based on each individual mentor/mentee relationship – for example, a mentor may emphasize independence as more important in a graduate student than an undergraduate student.

NRMN aligning expectations

Another method is to use a mentoring contract. The mentor and mentee can fill out their individual expectations under categories like classes, funding, publications, travel, goals, and teaching. Then, they meet and go over the contract together, discussing and reconciling any differences between expectations. This meeting could include a clear and specific conversation about criteria for authorship, lab culture, funding availability, and other pertinent topics. At this meeting, the value of the mentoring contract becomes immediately clear: there are inevitably differences between expectations and needs outlined by each person, and therefore going through the intentional process of aligning expectations prevents those assumptions from being proven false later on. A mentoring contract is also a good way to allow the mentee to have a voice and be able to express their needs and expectations from the very beginning, a process that may not be easy for mentees to initiate. The mentoring contract should be revisited at least yearly to reflect new goals and expectations that arise and to assess progress – this is also a great opportunity to remind the mentee just how much they’ve accomplished in a year!

Some mentors craft mentoring philosophies, which they then either go over with students individually or even include on their websites or professional profiles. Others use mentor/mentee evaluations to maintain a healthy relationship. During all of these discussions, it can also be useful to talk about unrealistic expectations for each partner. For the mentor, it is especially useful to consider whether the mentee has realistic expectations about their mentoring needs. For example, a mentee can be categorized into four groups: needing a mentor a lot vs. a little and wanting a mentor a lot vs. a little – and out of the four possible combinations, mentors should carefully approach interacting with the mentees who need help but don’t want it (or don’t ask for it).

Addressing equity, inclusion, and diversity

Equity, inclusion, and diversity are the lens through which we focused on the issue of meaningful and effective mentoring. The logic behind this focus is that if you were mentoring yourself, you’d know exactly what you want. Conflicts between people in general, and by extension difficulties in mentoring, often arise from differences between mentor and mentee. Cultivating our own awareness, understanding, and empathy towards folks who are different from ourselves will naturally translate into more meaningful and effective mentoring relationships. We would argue that attending trainings about working specifically with women and underrepresented minorities makes one a better mentor in general, because the basic tenets from such training (respect, empathy, communication, awareness) can be applied to all relationships.

In order to engage in more effective partnerships, we recommend self-educating on pertinent diversity and equity issues and literature (the readings listed at the end of this post are a good place to start) as well as seeking opportunities for trainings and discussions and dialogue on UC Davis’s campus, including:

  • UndocuAlly training
  • The UCD LGBTQIA+ Center’s Allyship training
  • NRMN Culturally Aware mentorship
  • Graduate Diversity Orientation Program Extension workshops for graduate students

Such self-education and workshops can greatly increase understanding of others’ experiences besides our own, which fosters empathy and better communication in relationships in general. For example, a recent study has suggested that women benefit more from same-gender role models, but the same is not necessarily true for men. This could be important and useful information in certain situations: for example, if a male PI were advising a female graduate student and the lab, department, and graduate group she belonged to were composed in large part of men, the PI could improve the student’s experience by introducing her to other female faculty, scientists, or researchers in the field to help her foster relationships that best enable her to succeed. Alternatively, if for example a post doc attends a workshop on microaggressions and realizes that her lab-mates have participated in such behavior towards one of her undergraduate assistants, she could organize a meeting in which lab members discuss lab culture and how to create a welcoming and comfortable working environment for everyone in the lab.

Mentoring resources

Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity

These resources may be used to help mentors to:

  • Partner with organizations to increase recruitment and retention of women and members of Under-Represented Minority groups
  • Become better equipped to mentor students from a diverse range of backgrounds (resources and trainings through the WRRC, LGBTQIA+ center; UndocuAlly training through the AB540 center)
  • Provide these resources to mentees as needed 

General resources:

Resources at UC Davis:

Related readings (listed on Graduate Group in Ecology’s outreach web page):

Armstrong, M.J., A.R. Berkowitz, L.A. Dyer, and J. Taylor. 2007. Understanding why underrepresented students pursue ecology careers: a preliminary case study. Front. Ecol. Environ. 5: 415-420

Spalding, H.L., A. Gupta, D.J. Burshis, M.L. Knope, and K.A. Tice. 2010. K-12 science education and “broader impacts.” Front. Ecol. Environ. Front. Ecol. Environ. 8: 217-218

Torres, L.E. and B. Bingham. 2008. Fixing the leaky pipe: increasing recruitment of underrepresented groups in ecology. 6: 554-555

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