Institute for Broadening Participation: Building Partnerships to Support Diversity in STEM
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Mentoring FAQ:


The purpose of this document is to provide a guide to assist in the establishment of successful mentee/mentor partnerships. Mentoring is not a new concept; in fact, mentoring and apprentice relationships are found in ancient civilizations. Overtime, these partnerships have served as means by which one generation passes on expertise and encouragement to another generation. MS PHD'S Program Mentee and Mentor Partnerships are designed to give underrepresented students in Earth Systems Science opportunities career guidance from established Earth Systems scientists and science educators.

FAQs About the MS PHD'S Program Mentee and Mentor Partnership will guide you through this process--what it means to be a mentee and mentor, the roles and responsibilities, and the important information to equip you to better meet the unique demands of your partnership. The mentor-mentee relationship is charted from beginning to end by tips on how to cultivate the relationship and avoid "obstacles" that can detour a mentor-mentee partnership. Finally, FAQs outlines the positive effects of this initiative--effects that are shared by the mentor, the mentee, and the MS PHD'S Program.

The MS PHD'S Program Director, in conjunction with NASA, has selected the proactive approach of mentoring partnerships to provide career guidance and role models for future Earth Systems scientists. FAQs About the MS PHD'S Program Mentee and Mentor Partnership supports this selection by providing information to assist in the establishment of successful mentee and mentor partnerships.

Recommendations For Use

This document contains information on mentoring -- including tips, suggestions, and examples to supplement this information. It is recommended that you pay special attention to the section titles listed in the Table of Contents. When you click on one of the section titles, that section will immediately appear on your screen.

Whether you are a "first time" mentee or an "experienced" mentee; whether you are a "first time" mentor or an "experienced" mentor, we encourage you to read the FAQs. Refer to them whenever necessary. You may find that you refer to some sections more than others. Please review the FAQs thoroughly. In order to ensure the success of MS PHD'S Program Mentee and Mentor Partnership, FAQs will be discussed during the JGOFS conference orientation.

1. What is the MS PHD'S Mentee and Mentor Partnership?
2. Who are mentees?
3. Who are mentors?
4. In selecting a mentor, what should I look for?
5. What do mentees want from their mentors?
6. How does a mentor benefit from a mentoring connection?
7. What is the time commitment?
8. How long does a mentoring connection last?
9. Can someone have more than one mentor?
10. How many people can one person mentor?
11. Do supervisors mentor their subordinates?
12. Are mentoring connections confidential?
13. What if I find myself in over my head as a mentor?
14. Who is eligible to participate in a MS PHD'S Mentee and Mentoring Partnership?
15. Can graduate students mentor undergraduates?
16. Can graduate students mentor each other?
17. Do mentoring connections between people in different locations work?
18. How do I get training to be a mentee or a mentor?


1. What is the MS PHD'S Mentee and Mentor Partnership?

The MS PHD'S Mentee and Mentor Partnership provides a supportive network for selected underrepresented students in Earth Systems Science in order to increase their retention within and enhance their contribution to the scientific community. The MS PHD'S Mentee and Mentor Partnership links student participants with experienced Earth System scientists and science educators. Through this partnership mentees will establish networks and support as they obtain wider access to international research and resources.

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2. Who are mentees?

Mentees are novices who are new to the field and have a need for more experienced persons to pass on the "organizational savvy," culture, politics, and personality of the discipline. Not only does this knowledge help mentees to succeed, but also it supports their entry into the larger scientific community. Mentees have a
  • Sense of responsibility for their own growth
  • Sense of where they want their careers to go
  • Willingness to take feedback constructively
  • Willingness to learn
  • Desire to make a meaningful contribution to the field of Earth Systems Science.

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3. Who are mentors?

Mentors help mentees clarify career goals and carry out plans to reach those goals by sharing insights and knowledge they have gained through their experiences. The roles of the mentor include coach, teacher, motivator, counselor, guide, door opener, advisor, role model, and sponsor. A mentor:
  • Coaches the mentee in enhancing skills and intellectual development
  • Passes along organizational information (structure, politics, personalities)
  • Provides candid feedback about perceived strengths and developmental needs
  • Points out opportunities for the mentee to develop and demonstrate capabilities (as well as pointing out pitfalls to avoid)
  • Advises the mentee on how to deal with real or perceived roadblocks
  • Encourages and motivates the mentee
  • Builds the mentee's self-confidence and sense of self
  • Links the mentee with others who can enhance the mentee's learning.

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4. In selecting a mentor, what should I look for? A person should spend a lot of time thinking about their needs before selecting a mentor. Look for someone who:
  • You respect
  • Has been where you want to be
  • Has the time and desire to help you
  • Is outside your chain of command

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5. What do mentees want from their mentors?

Typical responses include the following:
  • Encouragement
  • Support
  • Honesty
  • Candid information and advice A "big picture" view Guidance and suggestions
  • An honest appraisal of their abilities
  • Help with their "vision"
  • Assistance in making good choices
  • Information on opportunities available
  • Help in defining and reaching goals
  • The benefit of the mentor's experiences
  • Responds within a agreed upon period of time to phone calls and emails
  • Honest discussions about tough issues
  • Assistance in formulating a cohesive plan
  • Help developing a network
  • Introduction to key players
  • Idea stimulation
  • Insight to career paths

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6. How does a mentor benefit from a mentoring connection?
  • Career advancement-assigning mentees to special projects can build the mentor's reputation for getting things done; developing others to follow your example can help a mentor advance.
  • Information gathering-mentors receive a great deal of information about academia, feedback, and fresh ideas from their mentees. Because senior people can be isolated, mentees can offer insight about how students at different levels perceive academia in general and the field of Earth Systems Science, in particular.
  • Personal satisfaction-mentors report a sense of pride at helping a junior person succeed. They also often state they feel they are "giving back" some of what the others have given to them.
  • Sharpened leadership interpersonal skills-mentors sharpen their own skills as they challenge and coach their mentees.
  • Source of recognition-good mentors are well respected at all levels in the scientific community.
  • Expanded professional contacts-mentors develop professional contacts by interacting with other mentors and with contacts they make while seeking referrals for their mentee.

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7. What is the time commitment?
The amount of time varies depending on the needs, expectations, and desires of the mentee and the mentor. We highly recommend that both parties discuss their expectations at the beginning, and one of the most important factors is time. How often and for how long will they make contact? Does one have a commitment at certain times that would make them unavailable? When is it okay to call or email? The greatest time commitment will generally be at the beginning of the connection, as the focus is on getting to know each other and on building the relationship.

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8. How long does a mentoring connection last?
It depends. First, it depends on the mentee's needs, remembering that successful connections are mentee-driven. Mentoring relationships may end when the mentee has outgrown the need for his or her mentor's guidance. Sometimes, the relationship evolves into a strong friendship in which the two see each other as peers. However, we recommend an initial commitment of six months. At that time, the mentor and mentee should discuss what they have accomplished, whether it would be beneficial to continue, and what to work on in the future.

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9. Can someone have more than one mentor?

Yes, especially when a mentee has needs in more than one area. Forming relationships with several respected individuals that you can turn to for advice is wise. It can be difficult to find the time and energy for multiple mentoring connections, so it is recommended that mentees develop one mentoring relationship before seeking additional mentors.

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10. How many people can one person mentor?

There is no rule as to how many one can mentor, as each mentor must decide how much time they can commit to mentoring. Because of the time and energy needed to mentor effectively, we suggest that the mentor develop one connection before deciding to take on another.

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11. Do supervisors mentor their subordinates?

Most supervisors do mentor somewhat, but research shows that the most effective mentor is not the first or second level supervisor. It is suggested that the mentor should be about two levels above the mentee. The mentee's supervisor may be able to share some of the knowledge and skills that need to be developed, but sometimes supervisors have time constraints or are otherwise unable to provide the guidance needed. There are also drawbacks to the supervisor mentoring his or her subordinate. One is a perception of favoritism, based on the time that can be required in mentoring. Also, mentees are often reluctant to being open about their developmental needs and weaknesses. So supervisors do mentor subordinates, but it is recommended that the mentee also seek mentors outside their chain of command.

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12. Are mentoring connections confidential?

In order to foster open and honest communication, the mentee must be able to trust the mentor not to disclose their discussions with others. However, if both agree that communication with someone else about the mentee would be beneficial, the mentor and the identified person may talk.

Note: Intent to harm oneself or someone else or break a law can never be kept confidential.

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13. What if I find myself in over my head as a mentor?

One of the roles of a mentor is that of "referral agent." A mentee's career issues may require more information than you have, so it's best to learn about other available resources. If your mentee, who trusts you, comes to you with a problem more personal than professional, be supportive but refer. In other words, know your limitations. You are providing professional guidance. Never try to professionally counsel someone having personal problems. Mentors and mentees have access to the MS PHD'S personnel who can advise on these issues. MS PHD'S personnel have a number of other useful referral resources available.

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14. Who is eligible to participate in the MS PHD'S Mentee and Mentor Partnership?

All student applicants who have been accepted into the MS PHD'S Program may participate in the Mentee and Mentor Partnership.

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15. Can graduate students mentor undergraduates?

Yes, remembering that the best connections are made based on the mentee's needs. The most important criteria are for the potential mentor to have the experience and knowledge that the mentee needs to develop professionally. Because graduate students have often had varied experiences and research assignments, they can share this perspective with undergraduates. Graduate students can provide information on the culture of a specific university that can help undergraduates settle in and quickly feel a part of their new learning community.

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16. Can graduate students mentor each other?

Remember that the best mentoring connections are "mentee-driven," so connections depend on the mentees' needs. For example, if a student's goal is to go to a specific school or enter a specific scientific discipline, we recommend they find a student who has been through those experiences to learn all they can about the process.

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17. Do mentoring connections between people in different locations work?

Many of the matches made in the MS PHD'S formal network are between people who have not yet met. They communicate by e-mail and telephone. Naturally, because it can be harder this way, these matches can be more difficult to maintain. However, many people are located in places with few other people, so there may not be a good mentoring candidate available. Some mentees have found e-mail connections to work, as they can take their time to express themselves, and some find it easier to open up about their concerns by writing them down. The ideal mentoring connection will occur at the JGOFS Conference when mentees and mentors will meet to go over an individual's leadership development plan and discuss progress. We have received reports from many satisfied mentees who have mentors far away.

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18. How do I get training to be a mentor or a mentee?

The MS PHD'S Program orientation during the JGOFS conference will provide information about the establishment and maintenance of effective mentee/mentor partnerships. You may always contact MS PHD'S personnel by email, phone and fax for any additional clarification or information.

We also hope that you will find the other information on this site helpful to be an effective mentee and mentor.

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The MS PHD'S Mentee and Mentor Partnership is adapted from "Frequently Asked Questions About Mentoring," http://www.usch.mil/hg/g-w/g-wt/g-wtl/mentfaq.htm


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