7 OutreachTopConnect with your children6 Managing and Evaluating

6 Managing and Evaluating Mentoring


Ayanna Howard

Associate Professor
(Chair) School of Electrical and Computer Engineering
Georgia Institute of Technology
Tyseer Aboulnasr Professor of Electrical Engineering
Former Dean of the Faculty of Engineering
University of Ottawa
Linda Jones Director, Picker Engineering Program
Smith College
Janet Rutledge Senior Associate Dean of the Graduate School
University of Maryland, Baltimore County

Within the context of increasing the number of women in academia, mentoring can aid preparation for and retention within the community of engineering researchers and educators. Mentoring does this by providing access to information, encouragement for achievement, and advocacy for advancement. Mentoring can play an important part in the transition of doctoral students into faculty positions, junior faculty to tenured status, and tenured faculty to the rank of full professor and administrative leadership. Successfully encouraging these transitions requires thinking critically about

  1. what mentoring is and is not,
  2. what the benefits of mentoring are and how they should be evaluated, and
  3. how positive mentoring climates are designed and how successful mentoring practices are institutionalized at the departmental, university, and national levels in order to promote the success of women engineering faculty.

These issues are considered in this chapter with an emphasis on women, but the the initial discussion is quite general.

6.1 Mentoring defined and explained

It is important that graduate students and postdoctoral fellows draw a distinction between an "adviser" and a mentor. A research adviser may or may not also be a mentor, but a research adviser is more likely to be a mentor exclusively for professional matters. Similarly for new faculty, a more senior colleague with whom you collaborate on research may or may not also be a mentor. The issue in both of these circumstances is the clear need to avoid having a mentor who has an explicit or implicit supervisory relationship with you. The danger in such situations is that the power differential inherent in the respective roles may make it too difficult to maintain the independence required to successfully perform the dual roles of mentor and protégé.

Mentoring is the application of the insights and experiences of one or more individuals to the personal and professional development of others. It can occur between individuals, between individuals and groups, or among groups. Some mentors may provide only personal guidance, while others provide only professional guidance. A few mentors may provide both types of guidance.

In all circumstances, however, the mentor's role is to help the protégé to make informed decisions. The mentor's role is not to make decisions for the protégé. Ultimately, the protégé is responsible for the decisions made and must bear the consequences for those decisions.

Mentors are often called upon to make explicit the tacit knowledge within a particular academic community. For example, mentors to busy undergraduates trying to balance their course work and co-curricular activities are often called upon to point out that many graduate faculty value more strongly undergraduate research than they do the difference between a 3.8 and a 4.0 grade point average. That is, if the aim is admission to graduate school, it is more in the undergraduate's interest to conduct undergraduate research and perform it well than it is to not conduct undergraduate research in hopes of a slightly higher GPA.

Mentors are an important source of encouragement. They should well understand the challenges facing the protégé and provide (either directly or by reference to others) proof by examples that the challenges are surmountable. Often, just being a sounding board for protégés' frustrations is sufficient to keep them on the path to success. The mentor to a doctoral student should be able to explain that many of the frustrations of advancing to candidacy are important parts of acquiring the habits of mind present in successful doctoral recipients.

Mentors can advise on paths to advancement. A protégé may assume a given path is logical or consistent with their professional morés only to learn that their assumptions are completely wrong. As an example, one faculty member assumed that in his promotion package he should emphasize his collaborative efforts rather than stress his individual accomplishments. Several colleagues corrected his faulty assumption and his promotion package was successful the second time around [27].

The last example hints at the value of multiple mentors for university faculty. In the ideal situation, a protégé will have at least three mentors, with one from within the protégé's research area and department who can provide guidance and feedback on the protégé's professional growth and advancement from a departmental perspective. This is particularly helpful in assisting new faculty to gain an understanding of the implicit expectations of their roles and the resources available to them. A protégé should also seek out a mentor from outside the department, but within the university, someone who can advise on university level "politics." There are frequently issues that extend beyond the boundaries of the protégé's department and having an outside adviser is immensely helpful in such situations. Finally, a protégé should seek someone at another institution, but within their research area, who can provide an external perspective on professional development. This person can be immensely helpful in getting the protégés research off the ground. But this is only a minimum set. Protégés would do well to seek someone, possibly outside their professional area, from whom they can seek personal advice and guidance without having to worry about consequences for their professional image. In other words, having multiple mentors provides a variety of viewpoints applicable to different aspects of the protégé's life. Virginia Valian crystallizes this in her concept of a "circle of advisers" [31].

Particularly within academic communities, it is important to acknowledge that mentoring not only occurs as interactions between individuals, but also as interactions between individuals and institutions. When formal mentoring programs exist, their quality and operation are a statement of institutional commitment (or lack thereof) of the research group, department, college, or university to the success of protégés. Although institutions are collections of individuals, they often take on characteristics distinct from their individual members. One may find a good individual mentor within an organization that makes little formal effort to promote mentoring.

Finding mentors

Mentors can be found in a variety of ways. The direct approach can work. During the BIRS workshop, Linda Jones was approached as a possible mentor by a new doctoral graduate who was attending another meeting at the Banff Centre and who is now working as an environmental engineer at the US Environmental Protection Agency. She had decided to not immediately enter academe for specific reasons, but was seeking validation of her decision. While there was not time for a full conversation, they exchanged contact information to follow-up later.

Mentors can be found in other ways as well. They can be assigned within formal programs. (See the case study below.) When a formal program is not available, informal networks can be quite helpful. If no obvious informal network exists, then protégés can create their own networks from their professional peers and circles of interaction. In other words, getting the mentors one wants is all about forming networks of people with various backgrounds and expertise to provide information that can be evaluated in the context of one's own life experiences.

In approaching a potential mentor, think through what is wanted from a particular mentor candidate, watch carefully to see if they can provide it, and then ask for input. If nothing else, a mentor candidate can provide a recommendation to another person better suited to either serve as a mentor or at least to better answer the immediate question you have. At least initially, protégés may want to avoid making a formal request that someone serve as their "mentor;" many people may be intimidated by the responsibility that this implies. Simply view a mentor as a friend. And we can all use lots of friends. Recognize that the skill sets looked for in a mentor will likely change over time as the protégé's personal and professional situation changes. This means that protégés may need to be on the lookout for new mentors as time goes on.

The mentors selected might not realize that they are serving as mentors. Many people give and receive advice over a period of many years without ever entering a formal mentoring relationship. Some will simply be "role models" whom protégés can watch, learning from their career paths and interactions with others. Others may simply see themselves as acquaintances with whom protégés occasionally interact.

Tending the mentoring relationship

Mentoring, at its core, is a relationship. As with any relationship, it's your responsibility to work for its success and to recognize that there is a degree of reciprocity in any successful relationship.

Mentors and protégés should be open with each other about their expectations for the relationship. Clear communication of expectations can avoid later problems.

Just as protégés depend upon mentors for guidance, mentors need feedback on whether the advice provided is meeting the protégés' needs. Furthermore, mentors appreciate encouragement as much as protégés do. Protégés should take the time to bring their mentor up-to-date on how things are going, tell them personally or drop them a thank-you note or email when their advice works particularly well or even if it does not. Such feedback helps the mentor to calibrate their efforts and lets them build personal stories that may be helpful to others. Some mentors may not respond to their protégés' feedback. This does not necessarily indicate a lack of interest. Both mentors and protégés need to recognize that they are busy people and may simply have forgotten to follow-up.

Mentors and protégés need to recognize that the other has occasional bad days. Neither should overreact to occasional lapses in judgment or consideration. However, proper boundaries should be set within mentoring relationships. Protégés should be seeking advice, not parenting. Similarly, mentors are performing a service, not fulfilling an obligation. Brainard, Harkus, and St. George discuss common problems in mentoring relationships [5]. Among the challenges they cite are the following:

A mentor has to be careful not to load their protégé down with their own "baggage." In this regard, you may wish to be careful about becoming too closely associated with any mentor you have within your department. This caution is particularly important to protégés if their mentor is part of an on-going political battle that predates your entry into the department. As a protégé, you do not want to be inadvertently crushed in a battle between two elephants. Obviously, mentors will want to make sure that they do not get loaded down with their protégés' baggage either.

On a cautionary note, the best way to get out of a bad mentoring relationship is to not get into it in the first place. Pay attention to the previously described guidance. However, if you do end up in bad mentoring relationship as either a mentor or a protégé, you need to get out of it. As a protégé with multiple mentors you have the option of gradually shifting your attention from a particular mentor. As a mentor, recognize that you can not save someone from themselves. You can point out the pitfalls that lie ahead, but protégés need to make their own decisions. Formal mentoring programs should allow for "no-fault" divorces.

6.2 The Benefits of Mentoring and
Evaluation of Mentoring Success

Mentoring should provide benefits to the individuals involved and to the institutions of which they are a part. As individuals are helped, we should begin to see more women in doctoral programs, a larger fraction of women in doctoral programs should become faculty and those graduate student and faculty role models should inspire more female undergraduates to complete engineering programs. But these macro-level outputs may be less clear to the individuals involved. A significant challenge for individuals and organizations is the time lag inherent with the types of large scale change we seek. Asking individual mentors whether they have been successful is a lot like asking parents to judge the success of their children--it takes many, many years and, irrespective of the result, you never really know how much is attributable to your efforts, how much is attributable to others, and how much is due to the individual characteristics of the protégé. Mentors often need an objective third party to help judge their effectiveness. Protégés may have similar difficulty in judging the results of a mentoring interaction. From organizational perspectives, similar challenges in attribution exist.

Possible metrics for gauging the productivity of mentoring relationships include those listed below.

Metrics for evaluating success in mentoring

  1. Benefits to protégé
    1. Graduate students
      1. Retention in program
      2. Degree attainment
      3. Entry into faculty careers
    2. Pre-tenure faculty
      1. Publications
      2. Teaching competence
      3. Appropriate level of departmental service
    3. Post-tenure faculty
      1. Promotion to full professor
      2. Attainment of desired administrative posts
  2. Benefits to mentor
    1. Additional professional colleague with whom to interact
    2. Presence of future peer to whom one can refer other protégés
  3. Benefits to Department/College/University
    1. Retention of female undergraduate and graduate students
    2. Identification of potential female hires
    3. High yield from hiring offers to female faculty
    4. Research productive female faculty
    5. Teaching productive female faculty
  4. Presence/absence of institutional best practices
    1. Mentor training
    2. Other metrics such as those identified by the Council on Graduate School's Ph.D. Completion Project.

See Ph.D. Completion Project Factor Assessment Template (Institution) for institutional metrics http://www.phdcompletion.org/tools/Template-FactorAssessment-Institution.pdf and Ph.D. Completion Project Factor Assessment Template (Program) for program-level metrics

















6.3 Designing positive mentoring climates
and institutionalizing successful mentoring practices

What policies and procedures foster and sustain good mentoring? Obviously, institutional commitment to formal mentoring programs is one step. However, others include explicitly recognizing and rewarding the time that faculty spend on mentoring activities. The National Institutes of Health has issued a policy statement that explicitly recognizes time spent advising postdoctoral fellows as an appropriate use of time on a research grant [15]. There follow two case studies that illustrate elements of a positive mentoring environment.

Case study: UMBC Eminent Scholar Mentor Program

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County seeks to facilitate a mentoring relationship between UMBC faculty and leading researchers in their fields in order to enhance awareness of UMBC faculty by eminent scholars, to receive advice from these scholars on research areas ripe for development, and to leverage their interactions with these scholars to build ties to others outside of the university in support of an expanding professional network. Through the Eminent Scholar Mentor Program (ESMP), individual faculty members consult with their chairs to identify an eminent scholar to invite to campus. Once a suitable candidate is identified, an invitation letter is sent that is signed by the department chair as well as the University's president and provost. The letter includes an invitation to present a special departmental seminar at UMBC, to meet with the UMBC faculty member and chair, and to serve as host for a presentation by the UMBC faculty member at the scholar's institution. The letter explains that UMBC will pay the costs associated with the UMBC faculty member's presentation. The letter also invites the scholar to serve as a mentor to the UMBC faculty member and provides guidelines for the desired mentoring relationship.

ESMP provides obvious benefits to the UMBC faculty members involved. Many new relationships are established between UMBC faculty members and scholars at other institutions. Examples of the benefits to faculty members include invitations to attend conferences, recommendations to participate on grant review panels, and advice that proved valuable for crafting a successful grant proposal for a highly prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award. ESMP is also attractive to the department because it provides positive visibility to the department, builds connections to nationally recognized scholars, supports the success of junior faculty, and brings excellent presentations to campus.

Case study: University of Ottawa

The Faculty of Engineering at the University of Ottawa was hiring a large number of faculty several years back. The chairs were expected to provide basic orientation to new faculty, but given the large numbers of new hires, it was clear that this expectation was not being met. New faculty were lacking the most fundamental basics of orientation (e.g., the geography of the campus) and certainly were not learning about the requirements for tenure and promotion. There was a large degree of frustration. The dean instituted a one-day orientation program for new faculty where the dean, vice dean, and associate deans, as well as chairs, introduced themselves and indicated their areas of responsibility and interest. The dean placed particular emphasis on communicating clear expectations as to workload and expectations of allocation of effort (e.g., teaching, research, and service). In her view, if you do not know where you are going, you have very little chance of getting there. Mentorship then fills in the details provided by the expectations framework. Mentorship explains ambiguous terms like "academic upgrade standing." The questions follow once the objectives are clear and understood.

Other elements of a successful mentoring environment

One element missing from the above examples (although in the case of UMBC it is available elsewhere in the university) is formal training for the mentor in the task of mentorship. Such training can make a tremendous difference since most faculty do not receive training in mentorship. An article in Science [21] discusses a mentoring program at the University of Wisconsin that seeks to train mentors to communicate effectively, to consider issues of diversity, to discuss mentoring approaches, and to apply a scientific teaching approach to mentoring [21]. Surveys of participants indicate that the program achieved its goals. Such training is not only inherently important, but funding agencies are now devoting increased attention to the quality of mentoring. For example, the America Competes Act requires grant applicants to the US National Science Foundation (NSF) requesting support for postdoctoral fellows to include a description of the mentoring activities that will be provided to the postdocs, and requires NSF to review the description as part of its merit review process. The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) have also clarified that time spent providing professional advice and guidance to post-docs is an acceptable use of research time [15].

Another missing resource in many situations is a mentor broker who can connect protégés to potential mentors. An example of such a broker is MentorNet [1]. MentorNet pairs women (and some men) students studying engineering, science and math with professionals who work in industry for one-on-one mentoring relationships, conducted via email. A similar system could be developed for use by engineering graduate students and faculty. Another resource that might be adapted to the needs of engineering graduate students and faculty is the Science Diversity Center http://sciencediversitycenter.org/. This center is an on-line cyber center designed to broaden participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields by (a) supporting distributed partnerships among institutions, (b) developing tools for sharing promising practices, (c) offering comprehensive career development support, and (d) deploying tools to facilitate research collaboration, including brokering relationships with potential research collaborators, providing virtual meeting rooms, and listing grant opportunities.

Many universities have well developed systems for matching mentees with multiple mentors and in educating and training both to understand the mechanics of mentoring and how to manage a productive mentoring relationship. Some have also initiated feedback mechanisms to evaluate the success of formal mentoring systems and continually improve them. These programs provide valuable role models for other institutions wishing to provide similar service to their student body and faculty.

November 15, 2007

7 OutreachTopConnect with your children6 Managing and Evaluating