The 10 Commandments of Mentoring

From Dr. Bernice Sandler, "Women as Mentors: Myths and Commandments."

  1. Don't be afraid to be a mentor. Many people, especially women, underestimate the amount of knowledge that they have about the academic system or their organization, the contacts they have, and the avenues they can use to help someone else. A person does not have to be at the absolute top of his or her profession or discipline to be a mentor.
  2. Remember that you don't have to fulfill every possible function of a mentor to be effective, but let your protegees know where you are willing to help and what kind of information or support you can give that you believe will be particularly helpful.
  3. Clarify expectations about how much time and guidance you are prepared to offer.
  4. Let protegees know if they are asking for too much or too little of your time.
  5. Be sure to give criticism, as well as praise, when warranted, but present it with specific suggestions for improvements. Do it in a private and non-threatening context. Giving criticism in the form of a question can be helpful, as in, "Do you think the research would be better if...?"
  6. Where appropriate, "talk up" your protegee's accomplishments to others in your department and institution, as well as at conferences and other meetings.
  7. Include protegees in informal activities whenever possible - lunch, discussions following meetings or lectures, dinners during academic conferences.
  8. Teach protegees how to seek other career help whenever possible, such as money to attend workshops or release time for special projects.
  9. Work within your institution to develop formal and informal mentoring programs and encourage social networks as well. Work to insure that accurate information is provided formally to all interested persons, through the use of printed materials and meetings.
  10. Be willing to provide support for people different from yourself. I have always believed that it is far easier for women than men to cross boundaries such as race, color, ethnicity, class and religion in working with others. But we all need to practice this skill and avoid the temptation to assist only those with whom we feel the most comfortable, those who are the closest to being clones of ourselves.