Evolving From a Focus on Mentee to Cultivating a Mentoring Ecosystem

Many current “mentoring” programs focus primarily on interventions for those being mentored, i.e. mentees (or sometimes referred to as trainees). All too frequently, these so-called interventions focus on fixing “deficits” in individual mentees so that they can “succeed” in the environment.

What goes under-recognized is that such an approach assumes infallibility of the environment or context, while ignoring the impact of structural deficits and biases of mentors and other powers that be.

Whether focused on engaging undergraduates in research experiences, mentoring graduate students to success, or increasing equity and inclusion for mentees and faculty in STEM–most activities and funds have been laser focused on deficits in individuals. There has been significant hesitation, and at times downright denial, about a need to engage environmental factors that impede growth and advancement of all individuals.

Of late, there has been increasing interest and engagement of the role of mentor preparation and training in mentoring effectiveness, particularly in STEM. A national and highly visible effort has been the NIH-funded National Research Mentoring Network.

To fully support efficacious mentoring and impactful outcomes for individuals from diverse groups, including minoritized and marginalized individuals, we need to evolve and expand our focus to include mentee, mentor, and the entire mentoring ecosystem. It is this latter point that has received much less attention; yet the ecosystem may indeed be one of the most critical factors.

Until we are prepared and ready to activate a focus on the role of the ecosystem and environmental stewardship of the ecosystem by mentors and leaders, we will continue to have incremental success in advancing equity in STEM and the academy.

If you have thoughts on this or other posts, find me on Twitter at @BerondaM

Is Your Mentoring Network a Cacophony or Symphony?

I’m a proud orchestra Mom of an accomplished violist, so I’ve heard lots of concerts over the years. I’m always struck by the transition from the near cacophony of the warm-up to the beautiful melody of symphonic music.

To seasoned ears, the warm-up is not really a cacophony. Yet, it is striking to hear how distinct the same instruments playing randomly sound relative to those same instruments functioning in networked harmony and interplay.

I write, think, and extol frequently about the power of mentoring networks for supporting individuals’ success.

The functionality of efficacious mentoring networks thrives with integration of the multiple nodes of which it is composed.

In a recent discussion of mentoring models, I highlight this integration as the “edges” (relationships) connecting “nodes” (mentors or mentoring resources) to the individual being mentored or supported. Focusing on the connections, in addition to multiple sources of mentoring in a network, is one means for assembling and directing a symphonic mentoring network.


Note. Shown is an example of an mentee-centered mentoring network including mentor (represented as circles) or nonhuman mentoring resources (represented as rectangles) nodes. The nodes are connected by ties or edges, which represent the relationships or interactions between mentee and mentor or engagement of mentee with a particular resource, with thinner dotted lines (weaker) to thicker solid lines (stronger) representing the strength of the relationship; and the length of the edges represents relative distance (professional, physical, or emotional). Adapted from Montgomery, 2017, SAGE Open.

Although a network starts with assembling multiple mentoring sources, a lot of input from multiple mentors in and of itself is not necessarily valuable. Lots of uncoordinated or disaggregated input can indeed lead to mentoring discord.

Discord can arise from being an avid collector of information and input without sufficient reflection or integration. This reason for discord can be especially true when your major purpose is to “shop” for information that matches your preconceived idea of what you think is right for you anyway. Alternatively, simply collating information from distinct sources—in the absence of critically reflecting on how and why particular input or advice makes sense for your established goals—can result in cacophony.

It is important to actively and intentionally direct the harmonic nature of your mentoring network. You have to be the principal conductor of your own mentoring symphony! Moving from cacophony to symphony in cultivating your mentoring network requires intentional reflection on the players (mentors, mentoring resources), as well as how the outputs from these players should be actively orchestrated to compose a melodious outcome (personal/professional goal/achievement).

If you have thoughts on this or other posts, find me on Twitter at @BerondaM