Happy National Mentoring Month!

Patricia Marsteller
Emory University
Patricia Marsteller, Emory University

Author Profile
published Jan 31, 2023 9:58am

Since Odysseus left Mentor in charge of his family, estates, and his son, the art and science of mentoring has been critical to guiding career and educational development. Like Mentor, I aim to be a wise and trusted counselor, guide, guardian, and teacher or as the title of a widely read book indicates, an Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend (National Academies of Sciences, 1997). I have learned that mentoring is an alliance between people and that both mentors and mentees benefit from agreements about how the relationship will evolve and how to include social support, career development, and growth. With faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates, mentoring often involves getting to know the whole person, their aims and aspirations, and their qualms about the future. Connecting students to the right resources or empowering them to bring up difficult questions with their faculty or research mentors requires that you be open, listen carefully, and know them as persons.

We know that everyone needs mentors! Effective STEMM mentoring provides trainees a support structure that serves as a foundation for their growth as scientists that considers who they are as unique individuals. I deeply believe that everyone needs multiple mentors at all stages of their personal and career development. As I often tell students, choosing a mentor or a team of mentors should be given the same consideration as choosing a life partner! It's a relationship that develops in phases and at its best evolves into collegiality and friendship. Mentoring requires exceptional listening skills, clear communication and expectations on all sides, renegotiation as the relationship develops and changes, and deep concern for the protégées continued growth and personal and professional development. A mentor must be flexible, willing to change the approach to fit the protégée's needs. Most of all, one must learn to listen and to develop the trust that allows difficult conversations. I firmly believe that people can mentor across race, ethnicity, and gender lines, but to do it well requires cultural understanding and sensitivity.

Suggestions for Celebrating Mentoring Month

Consider designing professional development sessions based on Entering Research and Entering Mentoring. Talk with your mentees about strategies for coping with microaggressions, stereotype threat, and implicit bias to using presentations, cases studies and reflection for all. Consider using MyIDP for graduate students and undergraduates. This exercise is extremely valuable for planning mentor networks and career development.

Establishing and practicing clear communication requires investments by both mentors and mentees. Please consider reading The Gerado Lab site on the kinds of documents you might consider with extensive examples. It addresses Mentor-Mentee Expectations Documents, mentoring compacts and other adaptable documents. You might consider crafting a DEI statement for your research lab and a mentoring compact or agreement with each trainee. Some resources from this blog include:


  1.  Branchaw J.L., Butz A.R., & Smith A.R. (2020). Entering Research: A Curriculum to Support Undergraduate and Graduate Research Trainees. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.
  2. Branchaw J.L., Butz A.R., & Smith A.R. (2020). Evaluation of the Second Edition of Entering Research: A Customizable Curriculum for Apprentice-Style Undergraduate and Graduate Research Training Programs and Courses. CBE Life Sci. Educ., 19(1), DOI: 10.1187/cbe.19-04-0073.
  3. Handelsman, J., Pfund, C., Lauffer, S. M., & Pribbenow, C. M. (2005). Entering mentoring. Madison: The Wisconsin Program for Scientific Teaching.
  4. Fuhrmann et al., (2023). MyIDP Science Careers Individual Development Plan. Retrieved from http://myidp.sciencecareers.org.
  5. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2019). The Science of Effective Mentorship in STEMM. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25568. 
  6. "Mentor Evaluation Form Examples." Retrieved from https://ictr.wisc.edu/mentoring/mentor-evaluation-form-examples/
  7. Lee, A., Dennis, C. & Campbell, P. (2007). Nature's guide for mentors. Nature. 447, 791–797. https://doi.org/10.1038/447791a
  8. Gerardo, Nicole M. "Written Communication Tools to Facilitate STEM Mentoring". https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/gerardolab/written-communication-tools-to-facilitate-stem-mentoring/

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