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Examining Traditional and Non-Traditional Mentor/Mentee Relationships

By SRAI News posted 01-12-2023 08:35 AM


Examining Traditional and Non-Traditional Mentor/Mentee Relationships

Research administration is continuously changing, developing, and transforming as a result of demands from research, sponsors, and stakeholders. How can we, as research administrators, better ourselves to evolve with the profession? One way is to lean on each other through a mentoring process where mentors and mentees participate in an at-will relationship to help each other grow, learn, connect, and share experiences.
Mentoring relationships follow a lifecycle involving three stages: initiate, cultivate, and evaluate.  It is critical for both mentors and mentees to determine why they want to engage in a mentoring relationship, specifically, what goals do they hope to work on or achieve? Mentoring affords several advantages for both parties, including building your network, contributing to community growth, gaining perspectives from other institutions/positions, and strengthening an individual’s overall skills. These benefits parallel potential goals a mentorship pair might establish, such as developing a career path, gaining knowledge on new processes or areas of research administration, exploring options for engagement outside the workplace, presentation skills, and working through critical conversations for leadership. A mentee’s concerns may be specific but are not unique. Ideally, the mentee should consider why a mentor is needed, what help he/she can provide, what questions (micro and macro) require answering, and what gaps can a  mentor help fill in. Sometimes, it is just general counseling, while other times the needs focus more on attaining skills (hard/soft) for advancement.

So, who can be a mentor or mentee? Any of us can be mentor, mentee, or both at the same time. Mentors are individuals who have self-identified in areas of expertise, acquired desirable knowledge, and have encountered experiences that are often transferable in a wide variety of situations. Mentees have either self-identified a need to learn and grow or have been nudged for growth by colleagues. These definitions often present mentoring in a traditional hierarchical sense where the mentor has a substantial number of years of experience, advanced titles, and prestige, while a mentee is an individual who is a novice within the same career field. Yes, mentoring can be found in this conventional format, but we like to think of mentoring as a 3600 horizontal approach rather than vertical. For example, a Vice President of Research can be a mentee with a department research administrator as mentor or two individuals with the same title can have a mentor/mentee relationship. A public accountant can mentor a research administrator even though they are in different career categories. These non-traditional mentor/mentee pairings can be successful, offering new information to augment knowledge or skill gaps when individuals are thoughtfully and intentionally matched to align with the original goals and intention for starting the mentoring relationship. Sometimes, it is more beneficial to engage in a mentoring group rather than in a one-on-one approach. Group mentoring allows for more diversity and is favorable when a goal needs multiple inputs and skill sets. Keep in mind with group mentoring that more is not always merrier; with more mentors and mentees the group will need to commit extra effort for facilitation and inclusion. Conversely, the benefits of group mentoring are sharing experiences and gaining knowledge and skills from a larger cohort. When the group bonds, the results are irreplaceable.

How can you find a mentor or mentee? Either party can start the conversation about mentoring, but often the mentee is the one with an identified skill gap, so it is natural for the mentee to search for a mentor. Start by looking within your institution to find out if there are any pre-set mentoring programs. If not, are there others in your network who would satisfy the role of a mentee or mentor based on their strengths and experiences? There is also the option of looking for national or organizational mentoring programs that help mentors and mentees meet and establish mentoring partnerships. The research administration field is full of individuals with a wealth of knowledge and expertise eager to share with others. Initiating a conversation with those around you about mentoring can be an excellent place to start.

If the goal of mentoring is sharing knowledge between parties in an effort to grow, we all have the capacity to be a mentor or mentee at some level. One could seek a traditional mentoring pair, or look for more unconventional relationships, in an effort to best align future goals with a partner’s strengths. Regardless of the type, mentoring is a fundamental asset for research administrators to flourish in an ever-changing career field.

Authored by

Katherine Bui, Supervisor of Research Administration
Dartmouth-Hicks Clinic

Mark Lucas, Chief Administrative Officer
University of California, Los Angeles, Department of Neurobiology