5 Tips for Successful Academic Mentoring

Mentoring entails much more than simply educating. Creating loving, honest, yet demanding partnerships with the goal of increasing capacity and opening doors for the mentee can be a lifelong commitment.

Taking a student or a colleague under your wing and nurturing, guiding, and sharing your expertise and networks with them has been the most satisfying part of my 40-year academic career. Mentoring is a gift that is hardwired into the fabric of academics.

The ancient art of apprenticeship is embedded in the progression from education and into a job in academics. Developing your talents and confidence while sitting at the feet of the ‘master’ (very literally in days gone by). Nowadays, African American women have evolved a more reciprocal and inclusive ‘learning by doing’ model to mentor the next generation of civil rights fighters.

Top tips for successful mentoring

  • Strive for equality, diversity, inclusion and fairness

Mentoring is more than just a wonderful feeling. It is a powerful, although not necessarily equitable, mechanism for passing along privileges and know-how from one generation to the next. A mentor, for example, may select ‘favorites,’ people who look like them and share similar interests. Se-xism, racism, classism, and disability are all present in personal relationships. That is why, as mentors, we must tread carefully in our pursuit of equity, diversity, and inclusion in all that we do. Not only looking for mirror images of ourselves.

  • Be more than a role model:

Mentoring can take various forms. The most rewarding is inspirational. Sharing your enthusiasm and sparking the flame in others. Adele’s schoolteacher encouraged her love of books, and Ms Macdonald’s appearance on stage with her at the London Palladium left her dumbfounded and in tears. So many people make an unnoticed influence in the classroom by passing on their love of their art. Mentoring has long been used to entice teachers to become teachers.

  • Boundaries

Mentoring isn’t always rosy, and it can end up being more “give than take.” Boundaries and understanding the rules of the game are critical. If the ground rules are not established, what begins as mentorship might become muddled. Mentoring a student, younger coworker, or mentee in an unbalanced power relationship can be dangerous.

The mentoring relationship can become strong and, on occasion, cross the line into appropriate behavior. If this occurs, organizations like the 1752 group will collaborate with universities to create clear norms, protocols, and access to research that will benefit those working in the field. Mentors can also be harmed by overly dependent or litigious mentees.

In any scenario, seek physical and psychological protection in individuals you trust, and relocate mentor or mentee as soon as possible, in my experience.Mentors owe a duty of care to their mentees, just as institutions do to their employees and students.

  • Gender and Work-life

The ‘slow culture’ of mentoring might fall off the agenda in an industry that prizes research and publications as the path to professional advancement. We’ve abandoned the questionable habit of introducing students to their tutors’ middle-class cultural capital at cheese and wine parties hosted in the tutor’s home and faithfully served by ‘his’ wife! Tutorials are now rigorously timed in the workplace or, more recently, online. Supervisors and tutees rarely have the time to build a strong mentoring relationship.

  • Leave a Legacy 

Stuart Hall, Britain’s greatest Black social theorist, was invited to sum up his legacy towards the end of his academic career at a Festschrift honoring his life’s work. He stated unequivocally, ‘being a teacher and a guide’. Sitting in the audience, his simple comments left an effect on me that he chose the lowly work of educating and giving back rather than his amazing contribution to social theory. That is the strength of mentorship. Its addicting quality is the joy inherent in the task’s humanity. The formation of mutual relationships, where you give encouragement, advise, and direction and receive the intangible gratification of seeing someone grow and prosper, is at the heart of it.

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