Mentoring: What Do I Need? How Can I Get It?

Decorative: "Explore your options"


"Mentoring and Productivity" (post) "focus[ing] on two questions: 1) What do I need? and 2) How can I get my needs met?"

  • It dismisses vague-concept "mentoring," preferring to focus on specific (and itemized) professional needs.
  • It then offers a six-step "challenge" to help you identify your current professional needs and get them met with the resources available.
  • The Teaching Commons site, resources, and personnel can be helpful as you navigate this process.

A. The Basic Dilemma and the Needed Shift

1. The Basic Dilemma: "Having [a] wide variety of needs is perfectly normal anytime you transition from one status to another in your academic career whether it's as a graduate student to faculty member, pre-tenure to post-tenure, and/or faculty member to administrator."

  • "[I]t's literally impossible ... to have all these needs met by one person in your department."

2. The Needed Shift: "[W]hen faculty members start identifying their needs, asking for the specific types of assistance that will meet those needs, and pro-actively cultivating an ever-expanding network of information, support, contacts, referrals, and advisors that are both internal and external to their campus, they become more productive."

  • "[S]hift[ing] from a person-based to a needs-based framework ... frees you from the search for 'a mentor' and focuses you instead on identifying your needs and getting them met."
  • "[I]t’s normal to have an evolving set of needs throughout your career."
  • "[T]hose needs are most effectively, efficiently, and comprehensively met in the context of a broad network of information, community, support, accountability, and ongoing feedback."

B. The Needs

"[T]he average new professor has some combination of the following needs":

1. Professional Development

  • "Many new faculty are looking for help learning how to manage time, resolve conflicts, administer projects, organize your office space, teach efficiently and well, supervise graduate students, and make strategic decisions about service commitments." 

2. Emotional Support

  • "[I]n the midst of a significant identity and role transition, ... you may need support in dealing with the common stress and pressures of transitioning to life on the tenure track."

3. A Sense of Community

  • "[Y]ou may find yourself seeking both an intellectual and/or social community where you feel a true sense of belonging."

4. Accountability

  • "The structure of your job likely provides the least accountability for the activity that is most valued -- research, writing, and publication."
  • "[T]o avoid getting caught up in the daily chaos, the vast majority of new faculty members need some form of accountability system for writing."

5. Institutional Sponsorship

  • "You also need to cultivate relationships with people who are invested in your success at your institution ... senior faculty who are willing to use their power to advocate for your best interests behind closed doors." 

6. Access to Networks

  • "[K]nowledge isn't produced in isolation."
  • "[I]t's critical for you to connect with others to discuss potential research collaborations, navigate external funding, and access opportunity structures that might not be immediately apparent to you as a new faculty member." 

7. Project Specific Feedback

  • "You will also need to regularly communicate with people who can provide substantive comments on your proposals, manuscript drafts, and new ideas."

8. Role Models

  • "[L]ooking to other faculty members who are navigating the academy in a way that you aspire to will be critical for your development as both a faculty member and academic."

9. Safe Space

  • "It's extremely important to have the space to discuss and process unique and individual experiences without being invalidated, questioned, devalued and/or disrespected."

C. A Personal Challenge to Find What You Need

1. "Pause every time you feel the urge to use the word 'mentor' or 'mentoring' and ask yourself":

  • "What do I need right now?"
  • "What's holding me back?"
  • "[W]hat (specifically) would help me to be more productive and effective?"

2. "Go through the previous list of typical faculty needs and specify what would be helpful to you in moving forward."

  • "Don’t be afraid to name your need."
  • "If you don’t know how to write a successful grant, get un-stuck in your writing, or are floundering in the classroom, it’s okay!"
  • "Name it so you can get the help you need to move forward."

3. "Ask yourself":

  • "How can I get _________ (insert current need not being met)?" 
  • "If you don’t know, state the need to someone else." [The Coordinator of Instructional Development in the Teaching Commons can be helpful here.] 
  • "[A]sk them to help you brainstorm how to get your needs met."

4. "Once you know what you need and have identified possibilities for getting it met, ask for help widely without shame, insecurity, or the belief that such a request means you are incompetent."

5. "Release yourself from the limiting belief that all you need is to find a single guru-like figure who will care for you, protect you, and lovingly guide you through your academic career."

  • "There is no guru."
  • "Instead, see what opens up ... for you when you replace that limiting belief with the idea that you can get your needs met from a wide variety of people and then take action in that direction."

6. "[T]ak[e] advantage of whatever 'mentoring' programs your department, college, and/or university offers, as well as any that may be offered by your professional organizations."

  • "They may not meet all of your needs, but they will increase the size of the network of people you can call on to assist you when you need it."
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