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Settling In: The Researcher's Guide to Your University

5.4 The successful mentor

Successful mentors contribute in many ways. While they have a wealth of experience on which to draw, it is important that they also recognise that the path of the mentee will not replicate their own path. Instead, the mentor offers a means of weighing options and judging the most desirable course of action. There are many characteristics which a mentor may demonstrate. In their very readable overview of Nature nominees for a mentoring award, Lee, Dennis, and Campbell (2007) list a number of personal characteristics found in successful mentors. These include enthusiasm, sensitivity, appreciating individual differences, respect, unselfishness, and fostering many researchers. Strategies noted in the same article include ensuring good communication, operating an open-door policy to ensure ready availability, generating optimism and inspiration, encouraging self-direction while also offering direction, applying effective questioning and listening skills, and celebrating each success. The authors also note the importance of building communities – of researchers and social groups. This overview is most useful in highlighting the need for generosity, positive and passionate advocacy of research, and realistic consideration of the research environment.

So how might a research mentor act? The following reflect some of the responses that can ensure a very powerful relationship.

  • Be honest, courteous, and respectful of the mentee's own qualities and talents
  • Respect the knowledge and intellectual property shared by the mentee
  • Recognise the mentee's skills, expertise, and individual issues
  • Listen, communicate, and share ideas without prejudice
  • Share experience and knowledge openly and generously
  • Share new ideas, expertise, models of good practice, and lessons learnt
  • Provide high level guidance on potential areas of innovation and strategy – matched closely to the individual's capabilities and current stage of development
  • Question and probe to provide opportunities for the mentee to reflect, explore, and question rather than simply giving advice and instructing on how things might/should be done
  • Assist the mentee in identifying, reviewing, and weighing options
  • Provide honest, constructive, and relevant feedback with due recognition of the individual's context and background
  • Provide strategic advice on the mentee's development, career aspirations, and strategies
  • Make time for meetings
  • Review any paperwork/documents prior to scheduled meetings
  • Allow sufficient time for the meeting
  • Facilitate networking opportunities and sponsor the mentee's entry into those networks
  • Promote the mentee's interests in professional networks and communities
  • Push the mentee to the next level. Offer a broader view of the process: what are the goal posts to be achieved? Help to set challenging goals
  • Learn from the mentee when appropriate.


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