This post below came through a faculty development list, but I think it's
relevant to early career researchers and professionals too.
TLDR: Mentoring comes in many forms and it's better to rely on a network
than on a single person to meet your mentee needs.
---------- Forwarded message ---------
*Monday, April 8, 2019 There is No Guru*
We've all heard repeatedly how important "mentoring" is to our professional
success, but if you scratch the surface and ask people what exactly they
mean by "mentoring," you will find a wide range of responses. Too many new
faculty members I know imagine that they will have a single guru-like
"mentor" who will sense their needs, generously dispense wisdom, care
deeply about their success, and gently guide them along the path to tenure
and promotion. Since that rarely happens, I want to focus this week on
Common New Faculty Mistake #14: *Looking For A Single Guru-Mentor.*
The problem with the idea that you will find one guru-mentor is that new
faculty members have a wide variety of needs, and it is not only impossible
but also problematic for all of those needs to be met by one (and only one)
person. For example, if you are a typical new faculty member, you have some
combination of the following needs:
You are looking for help in learning how to manage time, resolve conflicts,
administer projects, organize your office space, teach efficiently and
well, supervise graduate students, and make strategic decisions about
As a new faculty member, you are in the midst of a significant identity and
role transition: from graduate student (or postdoc) to professor. As a
result, you may need support in dealing with the common stress and
pressures of transitioning to life on the tenure track.
*A Sense Of Community*
Given that most new tenure-track faculty have uprooted their lives to move
to a new area, you may find yourself seeking both an intellectual and/or
social community where you feel a true sense of belonging.
The structure of your job likely provides the least accountability for the
activity that is most valued (research, writing, and publication). In order
to avoid getting caught up in the daily chaos, the vast majority of new
faculty members need some form of an accountability system for writing.
You also need to cultivate relationships with people who are invested in
your success at your institution. By that, I mean senior faculty who are
willing to use their power to advocate for your best interests behind
*Access To Networks*
Because knowledge isn't produced in isolation, it's critical for you to
connect with others to discuss potential research collaborations, navigate
external funding, and access opportunity structures that might not be
immediately apparent to you as a new faculty member.
You will also need to regularly communicate with people who can provide
substantive comments on your proposals, manuscript drafts, and new ideas.
I'm listing these common needs to illustrate the point that no one person
could (or should) fulfill all of them in your life! Expecting a single
mentor to transition you from graduate student to faculty member will
inevitably lead to disappointment, over-dependence on the advice of one
person, and feelings of loneliness. For example, I once spoke with a
tenure-track faculty member who had relied exclusively on her
departmentally-assigned guru-mentor to guide her through the transition
from graduate student to professor. The guru advised her when she arrived
to "hold off working on her book for a few years to mature intellectually."
In response to this *very bad advice*, she spent her first few years
"intellectually maturing" instead of writing and then was shocked to
receive a negative third-year review that focused almost entirely on her
lack of published work and minimal progress on her book. My point is that
gurus are human; they make mistakes. Therefore, relying exclusively on one
person can put you at unnecessary risk and leave you with many unmet needs.
This week, I want to encourage you to fundamentally rethink the idea of
"mentoring" by asking yourself: *What do I need, and what is the most
strategic and efficient way to get it? *Then, instead of looking for one
all-knowing guru-mentor, you will start to realize that there are many
different ways to get information, support, feedback, and advice. We can
meet our professional development, emotional support, community, and
accountability needs by connecting with professionals, peers, friends,
books, and online communities. For example, it's probably more effective to
hire a professional editor than to expect your departmental mentor to
copyedit your work. It's probably more satisfying to meet with friends for
emotional support than to expect it from your department chair. And, it's
far more meaningful to join a writing group for accountability than asking
your mentor to call you every week and make sure you're making progress on
your writing. Let me be perfectly clear. There are some needs (e.g.,
sponsorship, access to opportunities, project-specific feedback) that only
senior people in your field and/or department can meet. The trick is to
know the difference so that you focus the limited time you have with senior
mentors on the things only they can provide for you while finding
alternative ways to meet your other needs.
*If There's No Guru, Then What's A New Faculty Member To Do?*
Instead of focusing on any one particular person, I’m suggesting that you
imagine an extensive web of support that you create by* identifying your
needs and proactively getting them met*. If I could construct an ideal
mentoring network to support new faculty members, it would include all of
- A broad array of mentors and sponsors that are located within and
beyond your current institution.
- An *excellent coach*
therapist) to help you transition through your first year.
- A local and extended network of friends who you can rely on for social
support and stress relief.
- A group of scholars in your field with whom you can share drafts and
- A supportive community that meets your unique accountability needs and
celebrates your successes.
- On- and off-campus professional development activities.
- A professional development fund that you can access to get whatever
needs you have met in the most effective and efficient way.
In a perfect world, your department would be organized in such a way as to
welcome and support you during your transition from graduate student to
professor. In reality, it will most likely be your responsibility to
identify your needs and find ways to meet them. Along with that
responsibility comes the realization that you have tremendous power (even
if it doesn't always feel like it). In other words, you don't have to be
dependent on a single guru-mentor because YOU have the power to create a
network of support that is populated by people who are invested in your
success. This collective approach will enable you to feel supported before,
during, and after problems arise in your department. It will provide you
with opportunities, connections, and reference groups that extend far
beyond your college or university. And most importantly, it will serve as a
buffer to decrease any alienation, loneliness, and stress that you may feel
at your current institution.
*The Weekly Challenge*
This week I challenge each of you to do the following:
- Review the list of new faculty needs, and ask yourself two important
questions: 1) *What do I need right now?* and 2) *What is the most
efficient and effective way to get it?*
- If you feel resistant to reaching out, seeking professional
assistance, or asking for help, gently ask yourself: *Why?*
- For every need that you identify, brainstorm at least three different
ways to get it met. We keep a list of *resources and referrals*
the NCFDD website that may provide a good starting point.
- If you have not yet met the faculty development professionals on your
campus, ask who they are, where they are located, and what services they
- Write for at least 30 minutes every day (because people love to
mentor, sponsor, and support productive new faculty members).
- If you want an intensive mentoring experience, consider joining
I hope this week brings you the energy to re-think your assumptions about
mentoring, the clarity to identify what YOU need right now, and the energy
to seek new and creative ways to get all of your needs met!
Kerry Ann Rockquemore, PhD
Founder, *National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity*