Mentoring at the University of Pittsburgh

PACWC is pleased to provide you with information about mentoring and links to mentoring resources.

Why is mentoring important?

Studies indicate that people who receive mentoring are more productive and feel connected to their peers and to the larger institution than those who are not.

  • Mentors can be an important source of inside information about the organization and about how to succeed there.
  • Mentors can serve as a sounding board to discuss mentees' questions and concerns.
  • Mentors can be supportive in meetings with more senior staff.
  • Mentors can provide the mentee with greater feelings of connection to the organization.
  • Mentors can help with research, teaching, negotiating requests from administrators, with understanding policies and procedures, and with concerns about reconciling work and family demands.

Members of minority groups within the organization have special mentoring needs since informal advice is often less available to them from senior colleagues who often belong to the majority group. MentorNet is a nonprofit e-mentoring network that positively affects the retention and success of those in engineering, science and mathematics, particularly but not exclusively women and others underrepresented in these fields.

Mentoring can be beneficial to both parties. Mentors often report that younger colleagues with whom they develop close relationships teach them about new techniques and perspectives, and mentees can be a source of renewed energy and enthusiasm.

When less senior members of an organization are helped to develop and advance, the whole organization benefits.

What is the role of the mentor?

Mentors are often in the same field as the mentee and may be in the same academic unit.

  • Sometimes, mentors are part of the hiring committee for a new colleague. In some cases an entire mentoring committee is named as soon as a junior colleague is hired.
  • Mentors are usually one or two academic ranks above the mentee although there are also advantages to peer mentoring.
  • Mentors who do not wish to be in a mentoring relationship with a more junior colleague should clearly communicate their decision to potential mentees.

Mentors should build a climate of trust with their mentees and establish mutual expectations of their relationship with the mentee. Mentoring requires specific skills and characteristics.

  • An unclear or dishonest mentoring relationship can result in disaster for the mentee. For this reason, the most effective mentors are benevolent and responsible. Mentors must not act vindictively toward mentees.
  • If the relationship evolves awkwardly or poorly and the mentor changes her/his mind, it is best to end the relationship (7 tips for coming to closure), perhaps encouraging the mentee to choose a new, more appropriate mentor.
  • Mentors and mentees may discuss a broad range of academic issues from a professional and personal perspective. Mentors provide support and advice when necessary and/or when requested (introduction to the mentoring process.)
  • Mentors should point out career hoops that mentees are unaware of, unexpected hurdles, and clarify non-transparent institutional patterns.
  • Mentors share their passion for their field of expertise.
  • Mentors provide advice about available support for scholarly activities.
  • Mentors assist with developing the mentees’ teaching dossiers.
  • Mentors share their knowledge about the campus, university, and available resources.
  • Mentors offer advice toward academic progress and may help the mentee develop a timeline to tenure or to promotion to full professor.
  • Mentors request mentees’ feedback regarding their suggestions.
  • Mentors help mentees develop and accomplish a research program.
  • Mentors help mentees network and negotiate.
  • Mentors provide support and advice based on the best interest of the mentee rather than that of the academic unit.
  • Mentors provide advice about balancing professional and personal lives.
  • Mentors assist mentees in problem solving.
  • Mentors serve as role models—see responses of women in academic medicine regarding mentors and role models.
  • Mentors celebrate the accomplishments of their mentees. assisting in a project, or by putting him/her in contact with someone s/he might like to meet professionally.

What is the role of the mentee?

Mentees should feel comfortable seeking out formal and/or informal mentors.

  • Mentees may seek out mentors within their own unit as well as outside of it. Inside mentors have important knowledge about how the unit functions, while outside mentors can provide perspective about other parts of the organization and the institution as a whole.
  • Mentees should request a formally assigned mentor from the academic unit head. Mentees may have one or more informal mentors with whom they feel connected and comfortable communicating.
  • Mentees benefit from being receptive to approaches of more senior colleagues or peers who have important advice.

Mentees who maintain regular contact with their mentors benefit most.

  • Use the time with the mentor effectively.
  • Mentees should think carefully about their goals and about areas where they need more information and focus discussions around these issues.
  • Be respectful of the mentor’s time.
  • Express appreciation for useful advice.

Mentees should think about how they can “give back” to the mentor, perhaps by assisting in a project, or by putting him/her in contact with someone s/he might like to meet professionally.

Mentees must respect confidentiality. Information given in confidence by the mentor should not be shared.

Mentees need to realize when a mentoring relationship is not working well. In such a situation, it is important to end the relationship gracefully and quickly.

How to begin and sustain a mentoring relationship

Mentees and mentors should ideally establish nurturing relationships early in mentees’ careers.

  • Mentees provide copies of their CV and publications to their mentors.
  • Mentees and mentors schedule an initial meeting and share information about their background, professional experiences and goals for the mentoring relationship.
  • Consider developing a mentoring contract to clarify expectation of the mentor and the mentee and put it in writing.

Periodically, assess the effectiveness of the mentoring relationship.

  • Mentoring relationships may change when mentees achieve career milestones. Assess mentoring needs and modify as appropriate.
  • If mentors move away, mentees or their chairs need to replace them, and units that have mentoring committees have to reconstitute these. The new mentor and/or reconfigured mentoring committee should ideally continue with the goals and road map already established. Breaking of continuity or introducing new or different goals can harm mentees.

Mentoring At Pitt

Below are a few examples of mentoring programs at Pitt.

Mentoring at Other Institutions