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Mentoring refers to a relationship in which a more experienced person (the mentor), helps and guides another individual’s (the mentee’s) professional development.  Forming effective mentoring relationships throughout all stages of one’s scientific career can be extremely useful and rewarding.

The Mentor—roles and responsibilities 

The mentor acts as a contact person for information, advice, inspiration, and moral support.  A mentor could be your advisor or someone else you know and respect.  In fact, it is often good to have more than one mentor, each fulfilling specific roles.  Mentors also gain much from the relationship through the knowledge that they are contributing to the growth and development of an aspiring scientist.

An effective mentor… 

  • Is a teacher, guide, coach, and role model
  • Has knowledge and advanced or expert status
  • Wants to share his/her knowledge, skills, and experience with the mentee
  • Offers support, patience, and enthusiasm while guiding the mentee to new levels of competence
  • Points the way and represents tangible evidence of what one can become
  • Exposes the mentee to new ideas, perspectives, and standards and to the values and norms of the profession
  • Is more expert in terms of knowledge but views himself/herself as equal to the mentee
  • Responds to the mentee’s career goals and professional concerns
  • Shares personal experiences which address the mentee’s career goals
  • Inspires confidence and provides encouragement to the mentee
  • Listens to and communicates effectively with the mentee

The Mentee—roles and responsibilities 

The mentee focuses on questioning, learning from, and observing the mentor in order to acquire the skills and competencies needed to pursue their career goals in science.  Mentees will evaluate and clarify their career goals with the help of their mentors.  Mentees can also increase their skills and confidence through the efforts of their mentors.  In addition, the mentor can help the mentee develop contacts within the larger field.

Mentoring Links: 

Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend: on being a mentor to students in science and engineering, published by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine
Entering Mentoring: A guidebook to train science mentors at all levels, by Jo Handelsman, Christine Pfund, Sarah Miller Lauffer, and Christine Maidl Pribbenow

MentorNet: The E-Mentoring Network for Diversity in Engineering and Science