Faculty mentoring programs are only as good as the mentors who work with junior faculty. Unfortunately, few senior faculty members ever receive formal training regarding how to be an effective mentor. They may be excellent instructors and researchers in their subject areas. They may also be experts on university and department cultures and policies. But most will likely need direction and training to learn how to transmit their proficiencies to the next generation of faculty members.

The purpose of this article is to share suggestions to assist mentors—Dos and Don’ts—that have proven successful in a variety of faculty settings. Here are a few suggestions for mentors to consider: 

Getting started

  • Don’t assume that you understand what your mentee hopes to gain from your mentoring. Do discuss expectations and define responsibilities for both of you.
  • Don’t talk too much. Do ask questions, listen, and try to understand how you can best help.
  • Don’t be too formal with your mentee. Do drop in on your mentee’s (classrooms or office) when appropriate to show support and see how he/she is progressing.
  • Don’t be overpowering. Do establish a relationship of trust early.
  • Don’t make “You’re doing great!” or “Don’t change a thing!” comments unless you really mean them. Do give specific feedback, including constructive criticism when appropriate.
  • Don’t put your focus solely on what your mentee has done previously. Do focus on the kind of teacher and researcher your mentee has the capacity to become.
  • Don’t wait for mentoring interactions to happen. Do set regular mentoring meetings based on need (perhaps weekly, twice monthly, or monthly). 

It’s about them—not you

  • Don’t overwhelm your mentee with all that you have accomplished in your career. Do share vitas and discuss the mentee’s goals and aspirations.
  • Don’t try to clone yourself. Do help your mentee develop his/her own talents, abilities, and experience.
  • Don’t smother or ignore your mentee. Do find the right balance that works for both of you, knowing this balance will naturally adapt over time.
  • Don’t do everything for your mentee; you are only a guide. Do help your mentee grow incrementally through the four stages of development: (a) show, (b) help, (c) watch, and then (d) let.
  • Don’t pretend to know everything and make up answers to try to impress your mentee. Do model for your mentee how to really solve problems in your field and find answers to questions.
  • Don’t think you will do all the teaching and your mentee will do all the learning. Do establish a respectful relationship where you learn and grow from working with your mentee, and let him/her know when you learn something new from him/her.
  • Don’t try to be a “one-stop shop”—answering all of your mentee’s questions. Do recognize that there are many times when referring your mentee to others will be more beneficial for him/her than resolving a question or problem yourself.
  • Don’t overestimate or overstate your strengths. Do identify your strengths and weaknesses as a mentor and communicate them to your mentee. 

Teach how things work

  • Don’t assume that your mentee understands “how things really work” in your department, college, and institution. Do have several discussions about “the basics”:
    • What are department expectations regarding teaching, scholarship, and citizenship?
    • Are funds available to hire student teaching assistants and/or research assistants?
    • What are departmental expectations for office hours and meeting with students?
    • Are there department guidelines and expectations regarding grading?
    • Is there an institutional student evaluation system? If so, how does it work?
    • What faculty services are provided by your institution?
    • What teaching and research support is available for new faculty members?
    • What are the expectations, deadlines, and requirements regarding tenure?
    • What learning management system options are available?
    • What resources are available to help students with university accessibility exceptions (physical, emotional, or mental disabilities)?
    • What kind of information technology support is available?
    • How is pay determined in the department? What factors contribute to raises and merit pay?
  • Don’t assume your mentee understands how tenure works at your institution. Do guide your mentee through the tenure process.
  • Don’t involve your mentee with departmental infighting or old struggles. Do take time to share appropriate department culture with your mentee.

Mentors should not be expected to know all of the answers to these questions. One of the most supportive actions academic leaders can take is to let mentors know that your door is always open to support them in their mentoring efforts.


This article first appeared in Academic Leader on May 17, 2017. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.

This is the fourth in a series of articles about creating and maintaining an effective mentoring program.

 Kenneth L. Alford, PhD, is a professor at Brigham Young University. Tyler J. Griffin, PhD, is an associate teaching professor at Brigham Young University.