Benefits of Having a Mentor
In November 2010, a diverse group of faculty discussed the value of mentoring and the benefits one realizes from a mentoring relationship. Some of their comments are listed below. Additional examples were added based on a series of interviews and meetings across campus. As you read the comments, ask yourself: Is this the kind of mentoring I need? What might I do to find that kind of mentoring?
Encouragement and support for growth and improvement
“I was fortunate to have a top-flight mentor, someone who was a leading light who affirmed that I had good ideas.”
Guidance/collaboration in research
“A senior professor included me in a research project right away. He said, ‘You do the theory and I will do the methods,’ and that is what we did.”
“I found a senior faculty member to whom I was able to bring my teaching problems and who helped me learn how to address certain problems in the classroom.”
Building a professional network
“Part of the department’s mentoring program in our department is having new faculty coordinate our visiting speaker series, which is a weekly event. As a consequence, we meet people at other universities who are working in our area of interest. One faculty member I met in this way became a long-distance mentor and wrote an external letter for my tenure package.”
Help in becoming a leader
“I also had a mentor to whom I went for advice on administrative matters related to getting things done in the School. He helped me learn how to work within the system and suggested different ways to achieve things politically.”
Receiving useful feedback on behavior
“One junior faculty member who came to the department from another country received feedback from his mentor that he was perceived as somewhat aloof and even a bit arrogant. When they discussed this, it turned out that he was behaving the way that was expected in his own country. He then easily made the adjustment to the more easy-going and informal style of the department. This change of behavior made a big difference in how he was viewed by senior faculty and by students.”
Receiving guidance on promotion and tenure
“Once the faculty member comes up for third-year review and gets feedback from our department chair, the mentoring committee gets really active. The committee members work with the faculty member intensively on improving any deficits identified. They usually meet at least once a year to review progress before the tenure application is developed.”
There is a pervasive belief in American culture, and even at some universities, that individuals should demonstrate an ability to “make it on their own.” While Carolina does emphasize individual achievement and a culture of excellence, there is also a strong belief that faculty, especially new faculty, should have support, guidance, and feedback from mentors and more senior colleagues.
Faculty members at Carolina increasingly recognize the importance of mentoring. In fact, one of the five subcommittees of the Provost’s 2009 Task Force on Future Promotion and Tenure Policies and Practices was devoted to faculty mentoring. Academic leaders at UNC-CH now expect that each department or school will provide the mentoring and support that faculty need to be successful. The view at Carolina is that while faculty achievement is an individual responsibility, the provision of mentoring to clarify standards, build needed skills, and provide guidance about where to direct one’s efforts is the responsibility of the faculty at large.
As a new faculty member or a faculty member in transition (e.g., new to Carolina, newly tenured, or with new responsibilities), it is in your best interest, and perhaps your responsibility as well, to seek out mentors who can give you the guidance you need to be successful in the current stage of your career. Mentors can help clarify what you need to do to meet expectations; how you need to prepare for evaluation processes such as annual reviews, renewal, tenure, and promotion; help you build skills; identify and correct deficiencies before they become impediments to promotion; and, importantly, help you become an effective teacher, published and respected scholar, and university citizen and leader.