A senior mentor or a peer mentor?
A mentor is usually, but not always, someone who is working at a more senior role in your profession, but peer mentoring can be very valuable. Everybody brings different experiences to the process and having access to this, and support from people working at the same level as you, can be very valuable.
One-to-one mentoring, or pair or group mentoring?
Mentoring is usually a one-to-one relationship, but there are alternatives:
- two or more mentees may ‘share’ a mentor; this way, there is a mixture of senior and peer experience in the relationship;
- three or more peers may form a mentoring group or circle, meeting regularly to mentor each other and taking turns and mentoring and being mentored.
In a formal scheme, or by personal arrangement?
If you join a mentoring scheme either as a mentee or a mentor, you may be assigned a mentor or mentee, so the initial choice will not have been yours (although you will have the right not to form the suggested partnership). In a formal scheme, you will have support at hand and you are likely to have a timescale within which the mentoring partnership will end.
If you enter a mentoring partnership on your own initiative, the mentor and mentee can make all their own arrangements. See ‘Getting a mentor’, below.
Choice of mentoring style
Like coaching, mentoring assumes that those coached are responsible for their results and capable of finding their own solutions to problems. Experience in University-wide mentoring schemes suggests that mentoring works best when, rather than offering advice, the mentor actively listened to the mentee; encouraged her to take responsibility for her own development; kept the mentor’s own agenda out of the way. In other words, the mentor has taken a coaching approach. In a ‘spectrum’ of mentoring approaches, this means tending towards the more non-directive approach.
A spectrum of mentoring approaches
Remember that, however your mentoring partnership is formed, mentor and mentee are equally responsible for making this a fruitful experience. A mentor may offer a particular style of mentoring, and a mentee may seek, and request, a particular style. For example:
|Joe is starting a new role and wants some support in getting off to the best start. In the past he has tended to get into difficulties in the early weeks of a new post, by making assumptions about the way to do things and not taking time to watch and listen. He could ask a mentor to help him explore his anxieties about settling in to the working methods and culture of his new team, perhaps by reflecting, asking questions that raise awareness, and listening to understand; in other words, the mentor would adopt a ‘coaching approach’ (see above). Goal definition in this case might be as simple as “Three months after starting, I would like to feel confident in my grasp of the new role”.
|Sarah is half-way through a fixed-term research assistant post. She is considering her options for her next role but finds herself overwhelmed by the variety of choices and possibilities. She could ask a mentor to adopt a goal-orientated approach help her with the decision-making process, by making suggestions about how to assess possibilities, giving her feedback about her options, using summarising and paraphrasing to help her set herself goals. There will still be an ‘end’ goal such as “I want to be able to make an informed decision about the next step in my career path”, but there may also be more defined interim goals, such as “By the next meeting I will have investigated this option”, or “by the final 18 months of my post, I will have applied for (x number of) posts in my chosen field(s)”.