Mentoring Philosophy: A Mentor’s True North

Contributed by Melissa Li, Mentoring Committee

Mentoring is a dynamic, multidimensional, and complex relationship. How do seasoned and new mentors and mentees navigate these relationships? A mentoring philosophy could act as a compass to help relationships find their true north. So, what is mentoring philosophy?  A mentoring philosophy is a statement of a mentor’s guiding principles and approach in the mentoring relationship. Mentoring philosophies evolve with people and relationships. A mentoring philosophy can help mentors steer varied mentoring relationships and guide their mentoring practice. 

To understand the creation and evolution of mentoring philosophies, the NORDP Mentoring Committee had the privilege of inviting two colleagues who are seasoned mentors to share their mentoring philosophies and how they have been evolving along their mentoring journeys. Rebekah Hersch, Interim Associate Vice President for Research and Innovation at George Mason University, and Etta Ward, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Research Development, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) have 20+ years of mentoring experience each. Rebekah and Etta have mentored diverse groups of mentees, including students, staff, faculty, postdocs, and alumni. Both are active mentors in the NORDP Mentoring Program.

At the early stage of Rebekah’s mentoring journey, she was more mission-oriented, dedicating help to solve her mentees’ problems, so that the mentees could achieve their goals. Two decades later, Rebekah now focuses more on fostering mentees’ independence by being an effective listener and empowering the mentees to find solutions themselves. Rebekah also believes in #PayingItForward. She attributes her success to many excellent mentors, from whom she has learned valuable strategies and tools that she has been applying when mentoring others. Rebekah also recognizes the importance of showing empathy to mentees and constantly seeking mentees’ feedback. What has remained a constant beacon in Rebekah’s mentoring philosophy is that she is committed to helping mentees achieve their goals for their professional development.

Etta started IUPUI’s first-ever Preparing Future Faculty (PFF) program in the early 2000s. While she did not formally develop a mentoring philosophy at that time, she was deeply driven by this type of work as her professional calling and purpose. Over the years and through the National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) Entering Mentoring Facilitator training, she developed a simple but critical guiding philosophy: the mentee drives the relationship, the relationship must be reciprocal, and both the mentee and mentor must continue to #PayItForward. She refers to this philosophy at the beginning of every mentoring relationship in the many presentations she gives on the topic. Etta also realizes the critical importance of competency-based, culturally aware mentoring practices. She is intentional in her approach to integrate aspects of diversity, equity, inclusion, access, belonging, and justice (DEIABJ) throughout her mentoring efforts and to achieve a mutually beneficial experience.

As the NORDP community celebrates the National Mentoring Month, Etta and Rebekah are sharing their wise words with all of us: 

  • Do not be afraid to be a mentor or think that you are not ready. Everyone has something they bring to mentoring relationships. Mentors do not need to know all as they can help mentees by identifying experts who can help.
  • It is beneficial that mentees develop a network of multiple mentors. 
  • Mentors and mentees are encouraged to learn how to notice, name and nurture the various types of mentoring and other developmental relationships (coaching, sponsorship, etc.).
  • Take advantage of NORDP’s resources.

To celebrate National Mentoring Month, the NORDP Mentoring Committee is hosting an Open House, a meeting dedicated to celebrate current Committee members, take stock of our accomplishments, and welcome NORDP members who are willing to get involved. Mark your calendars for Thursday, January 27th at 1pm CST for the Mentoring Committee Open House. Email for the Zoom link. All NORDP members are invited to attend!

NORDP fosters a culture of inclusive excellence by actively promoting and supporting diversity, inclusion and equity in all its forms to expand our worldview, enrich our work, and elevate our profession.

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