The Science of
Effective Mentorship in STEMM

Online Guide v1.0

To engage in the most effective mentoring relationships, university leadership, department chairs, program directors, mentors, and mentees all need to take action and use the tools and resources available to them. This section provides some guidance about how to implement effective mentorship—at the institutional level or at the relationship level.

Developing a Culture of Mentorship

One of the more challenging aspects of realizing widespread and lasting improvements in the mentorship at an institution is the need to develop a culture that supports and values mentorship. Indeed, organizational change can be challenging, particularly with units composed of individuals who value their independence and consider themselves experts in many areas of their work. Research on teaching reform, which parallels mentorship reform, has identified a number of barriers to organizational change (Brownell and Tanner, 2012; NASEM, 2016, 2018a, 2018c, 2018d).

  • Barrier 1: The belief that mentorship is not a problem that needs to be addressed. (read more)
  • Barrier 2: A commitment to and comfort with traditional mentorship practices (read more)
  • Barrier 3: The tendency to place the sole responsibility on the mentee for their mentorship experience (read more)
  • Barrier 4: The lack of commitment to support implementation of effective mentorship (read more)

There are actions that members of the mentorship ecosystem can take to help foster the development of a culture that supports and values effective mentorship. These include:

  • Develop a shared vision of goals for degree attainment in STEMM that includes mentorship as a component.
  • Appoint a task force to review mentorship activities, programs, and practices in STEMM departments and labs. This can raise awareness and become a campus inventory of opportunities available to students and mentors.
  • Engage faculty professional development programs and centers in addressing mentorship as part of undergraduate research, graduate training, faculty learning communities, new faculty orientation, and regular programming.
  • Provide funding to facilitate mentor-mentee activity surrounding students’ research interests. For example, the University of California, Los Angeles Graduate Division funds a summer mentorship program for first-year graduate students as well as an academic year mentorship program targeted for second-year grad students to work on an independent research project with the commitment of faculty mentor.
  • Encourage campus-wide promotion review committees to establish guidelines for evaluating mentorship activities and impact.
  • Encourage campus STEMM programs and other student success programs to evaluate and report on key mentorship components when reviewing overall program impact.
  • Supporting rewards and review processes by addressing mentorship outcomes for faculty in annual review, promotion, and tenure, including both quantity and quality of mentorship experiences, and establishing a mentor award with clear criteria for evaluation.
  • Moving mentorship from “private” to public practice by encouraging faculty to share mentorship challenges, innovations, and evidence with peers.
  • Identifying incentives and support (e.g. financial, release time) for participation and engagement in professional development as it relates to mentorship education.
  • Using data and research to hold broader conversations about mentorship activities and innovations.
  • Providing information about effective mentorship resources available on campus to departmental faculty and staff.
  • Establishing regular reviews of student progress, paying particular attention to the stages of mentorship and addressing issues of equitable access to effective mentorship.
  • Integrating expectations for mentor-mentee performance, including the use of mentorship compacts and other tools.
  • Adopting general guidelines that include establishing learning objectives and responding in a timely and productive fashion to dissertation, requests for letters of recommendation, and other key career development milestones.
  • Establishing more formal mentoring processes, setting expectations, and taking responsibility for monitoring the quality of mentorship experiences.
  • Providing opportunities for mentorship education for both mentors and mentees.
  • Create opportunities to reflect on mentorship, assess mentees’ needs, and set expectations in labs and research relationships.
  • Participate in mentorship education activities to become more aware of practices, career and psychosocial support functions, and to learn to set reasonable expectations in mentor-mentee relationships.
  • Work with other faculty within and across institutions to extend mentee networks, exploring non-dyadic approaches to mentorship to meet the needs of mentees, and encouraging mentees to seek support wherever they can find it and support them in doing so.
  • Initiate and participate in faculty learning communities focused on mentorship.
  • Adopt new policies and practices in departments to ensure access to mentorship and ensure the quality of mentorship experiences for both mentors and mentees.
  • Hold colleagues accountable for adopting effective mentorship practices in reviews for tenure and promotion.
  • Inquire about a potential mentor’s approach to working with students and expectations for students, and reflect on how approaches and expectations align with their own working style and expectations.Inquire about the tools and supports for mentorship used in programs and departments, such as mentoring compacts, mentoring maps, individual development plans, and professional development for mentors.Integrating expectations for mentor-mentee performance, including the use of mentorship compacts and other tools.
  • Adopting general guidelines that include establishing learning objectives and responding in a timely and productive fashion to dissertation, requests for letters of recommendation, and other key career development milestones.
  • Seek multiple mentors to provide diverse forms of support and encourage other students to do so.
  • Seek advice from trusted faculty and peers on how to respond to negative mentoring experiences, including when it may be necessary to change mentors.
  • Ask for evidence of mentor effectiveness from department chairs, program directors, and other students in the program, and carefully weigh this evidence in choosing mentors.
  • Ask for opportunities to report honestly and confidentially on mentorship experiences, perhaps through ombudspersons.

Mentoring Tools

Individual Development Plans (IDPs)

The IDP is a tool for providing structure to mentors and mentees in their work together (Vincent et al., 2015). Developing IDPs requires that mentees think through their short and long-term career plans and formulate a path to enact the plans with support from their mentor. IDPs provide a mechanism for supporting effective mentorship behaviors in a manner tailored and responsive to mentees’ career plans as well as their unique skills, interests, and values (Hobin et al., 2014). The use of IDPs supports structured bilateral engagement and personalization in the mentorship exchange (Hobin et al., 2014; Vincent et al., 2015). Assessments of IDPs indicate they are useful in facilitating skills identification and developing the abilities needed to support career success (Hobin et al., 2014). Given that the use of IDPs is correlated with greater reports of satisfaction and scientific productivity on the part of postdoctoral scientists (Davis, 2009), their expanded use in training programs is expected to benefit a broad range of student scientists (Fuhrmann, 2016).

Examples of IDPs include:

  • MyIDP: “a unique, web-based career-planning tool tailored to meet the needs of PhD students and postdocs in the sciences.”
  • ChemIDP: A free career planning tool designed by the American Chemical Society for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars.
  • The Entering Research IDP for undergraduate students: The “Professional Development Plans” activity may be accessed for free once a profile is created.

Other description of IDPs and examples.

Mentorship Compacts

Communication of expectations may occur when a mentee and mentor(s) begin their relationship through the use of a mentorship compact. This is a written agreement that provides a structure for mentors to outline expectations from, and commitments to, mentees, and vice versa. Compacts differ from an IDP, which focuses on short and long-term career plans, as they are focused on expectations for the working relationship on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. More often than not, the explicit conversations between mentors and mentees about these expectations for the working alliance do not occur or only occur at the start of the relationship, and there is little if any external check that expectations are reasonable. Mentorship compacts can prompt more structured and regular discussions of expectations, making expectations explicit. Written compacts can also ensure that all mentees, regardless of their prior experience and socialization to STEMM, have equal access to information regarding expectations.

Mentorship compacts are usually distinct from the more strictly contractual agreements that are sometimes utilized in laboratory-based training environments. Rather, the term "compact" connotes something both mutual and aspirational. Indeed, examples of mentorship compacts often invoke inspirational language about "promises" that mentors make to mentees and vice-versa, and those promises can be attached to principles (e.g., loyalty, availability) as opposed to deliverables (e.g., publications, research or career milestones). As such, the value of mentorship compacts is not necessarily connected to specific terms and conditions or consequences for breach of contract. Rather, as with many commitments people voluntary make, much of the value arises from declaratively communicating to the other party a serious commitment and set of intentions in support of the success of the mentoring relationship, the parameters and boundaries of those commitments, and a mutual understanding of success in the context of the relationship. The compact can also serve as a positive corrective resource—an objective reminder to the parties of what they had intended to deliver to one another—if failures to hold to the agreements occur. If necessary, such a document can be helpful for an ombudsperson who may become involved in helping to arbitrate or repair a mentoring relationship.

Examples of Mentoring Compacts include:

Mentoring Maps

Mentoring maps are versatile tools designed to help an individual identify academic and career goals, sources of support to reach those goals, and areas where unmet needs could benefit from forming new mentoring relationships as part of a mentorship network. (Montgomery, 2017). The mapping process uses pointed questions rooted in mentorship to drive a personal mentoring needs assessment and a mentoring network mapping exercise.

Examples of Mentoring Maps include:

  • In a 2017 article “Mapping a Mentoring Roadmap and Developing a Supportive Network for Strategic Career Advancement,” Dr. Beronda Motgomery describes 1) how to construct a mentoring roadmap; 2) how to identify mentoring network resource nodes; and 3) how to build a mentoring network map.
  • The Mentoring Up curriculum includes a three part, stepwise activity which takes mentees through the steps of 1) identifying, prioritizing and communicating their needs, 2) identifying mentors within their network who can meet those needs, and 3) building a mentoring map. (The materials can be accessed for free once a profile is created on the CIMER website.)

Mentoring Plans

Mentoring plans refer to several different tools that can facilitate the roles, responsibilities, and approaches of mentors and mentees. Some people refer to mentoring compacts (see above) as mentoring plans since they provide a structure for mentors to outline expectations for their work and their relationship. Others describe mentoring plans as written documents that include both a mentoring philosophy and specific examples of how that philosophy is enacted in their mentoring practices. Mentoring plans can also outline a mentor’s plan of action for assessing their mentoring skills, behaviors, and approaches and detail their plans for advancement by identifying areas of need. The National Science Foundation (NSF) requires mentoring plans specifically in reference to training and mentoring of funded postdoctoral researchers; these plans can include all of the elements above or a selection of them.

Effectively Using Mentoring Tools

Any tool is only as effective as the care with which it is implemented; simply using a tool does not guarantee its success

For example, built in to the IDP tool is the expectation of a process whereby mentors and mentees regularly check-in on progress toward the objectives and milestones laid out with the tool. Similarly, mentoring compacts imply a working agreement about engagement in the mentoring relationship and it is therefore beneficial to agree explicitly on how to handle any failure to meet expectations by either party.

While these tools are intended to be helpful for structuring what should be a positive and mutually beneficial relationship, they can be undermined if the tools are used as blunt instruments of enforcement or of regulatory compliance. However, it is reasonable for mentors and mentees using these tools to agree that the relationship itself is conditioned upon mutual commitment to the objectives and milestones laid out. Mentors and mentees may want to seek out alternative mentoring relationships when there is a breakdown in the ability to follow through on commitments, and these tools can serve as helpful warning indicators of such situations. Ultimately, clarity, follow-up, and open communication are keys to helping ensure successful implementation of these tools.


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