Mentoring is hard work, but it can also be challenging to be mentored.
Being mentored requires vulnerability and trust that your mentor is committed to supporting you in YOUR stated goals and aspirations – personal and professional. As recently described in collaborative work with Dr. Stephani Page, this requires that the mentee is actively engaged and provides the mentor with space to grow, openness, active participation, among other things.
Unfortunately, it can be difficult for mentors themselves to enter into mentoring relationships prepared to meet the core needs of mentees, which include personalization, guidance, correction, affirmation, and agency (Figure 1; also see Montgomery and Page, 2018).
Part of this difficulty arises from the knowledge that mentoring too often takes the form of “imprinting”, or mentors training someone to pattern their behavior and actions after the mentors’ or the norm(s) of a group (Montgomery, 2019). This type of imprinting as mentoring often takes the the form of mentors promoting acculturation or assimilation in STEM and the larger academy (Montgomery, 2019). Unfortunately, this is often enacted as an “assimilate or fail mode” (Paris, 2019, p. 219). Too frequently mentors operating in these frameworks are individuals seeking personal affirmation themselves – confirmation for choices they have made including the paths that they have traversed and the goals that they have set.
Effective mentoring must start from a place of mentors being “healed”, i.e., understanding that their own affirmation and self worth cannot become a “group project” requiring specific personal efforts and actions or affirmation of those that they mentor.
To be clear, poor or negative mentoring can arise from both GOOD and BAD intention. We too frequently assume such mentoring comes only from bad mentors with bad intent. Certainly bad intention can lead to obviously poor mentoring outcomes such as bullying or exploitation (Figure 2). However, even good intent on the part of mentors can lead to negative mentoring experiences such as taking on mentoring when one is not well positioned or not available to offer meaningful guidance or inputs, or other such outcomes (Figure 2).
Fortunately, there are many (and continually emerging) options for ensuring that mentors can improve their mentoring skills. One of the latest of these resources is the recent report of the NASEM Committee on the Science of Effective Mentorship – full report now available here.
Fortunately, there is also this summarized advice:
Montgomery, BL (2019). Mentoring as Environmental Stewardship. CSWEP News, 2019(1): 10–12
Montgomery, BL, and Page, SC (2018). Mentoring beyond Hierarchies: Multi-Mentor Systems and Models. Commissioned Paper for National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Committee on Effective Mentoring in STEMM.
Paris, Django (2019). Naming beyond the white settler colonial gaze in educational research. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 32(3), 217-224.