Saturday, October 1, 2011

Did a Mentor Help You Feel Capable, Connected, and Contributing?

Linda Searby, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Educational Leadership
University of Alabama at Birmingham

            Mentoring is my passion, and the message which I continually convey to anyone who will listen is: “we all need to have a mentor and be a mentor at all stages of our lives.”  As we entered the professoriate, we all needed a mentor to “show us the ropes” and help us navigate a new culture.  All human beings have three basic psychological needs: to be capable, to be contributing, and to feel connected to others (Adler, 1930.)  Having a mentor as one enters the field of higher education can be a tremendous boon to a newly hired professor. 
Newcomers to higher education are often frustrated by the differences in their own expectations and the university’s expectations for them (Johnson & DeSpain, 2004). In addition, studies show that the presence or absence of collegiality in the higher education setting is a factor in retention of new faculty (Ambrose, Huston, & Norman, 2005; Zhou & Volkwein, 2004).  New faculty members moving to the ranks of higher education can find the publishing expectations daunting, and they often lack the mentoring support they need.  There is an assumption sometimes held in universities that mentoring will occur on its own which has often meant that non-tenured professors never receive mentoring.
            Adjusting to the demands in higher education can be especially daunting if one is coming from a practitioner role in a professional setting, such as K-12 schools.  Boice (2000) gives credence to the importance of new faculty members finding support quickly, as the tenure clock begins ticking and the necessity to start publishing becomes a reality. In his study of new faculty for over two decades, he found that the failures of new faculty were easily correctable problems, if they had availed themselves to the right resources.  Two of these problems are not knowing how to manage enough writing for publication in modest amounts of time, and not learning how to elicit effective collegial support.
            As the interest in mentoring has grown across all careers and professions, the mentoring paradigm  has taken on forms other than the traditional grooming-mentoring model.
  • Peer mentoring, in which a reciprocal mentoring function is provided by individuals with the same or similar professional status,
  • Group or co-mentoring, in which the mentoring function is supplied by a more or less tightly constructed group of professional colleagues
  • Network mentoring - In this model, early-career faculty build robust networks by engaging in multiple “mentoring partners” in non-heirarchical, collaborative, cross-cultural partnerships to address specific areas of faculty activity, such as research, teaching, working towards tenure, and striking a balance between work and life” (Sorcinelli & Jung, 2007,p. 58). This could also be called one’s developmental network (Higgins, Chandler & Kram, 2007).
            The three human needs of being capable, contributing, and feeling connected (Adler, 1930) are said to be universal.  Most faculty in new jobs likely experience these needs, whether or not they are articulated.  I would like to begin a dialogue with others reading this blog about your mentoring experiences as a new faculty member in higher education, no matter what “era” you entered the professoriate.  Were you mentor-less?  Did you develop your own mentoring network out of a need for survival?  Or were you formally or informally mentored by a more experienced colleague who took you under his/her wing?  Please share your experience and share a few thoughts about why mentoring in higher education seems to be neglected or left to chance. And finally, what are you personally doing to assist someone else in becoming capable, connected, and contributing in our profession?

Adler, A. (1930). The education of children. New York: Greenberg.
Ambrose, S., Huston, T., & Norman, M. (2005). A qualitative method for assessing
            faculty satisfaction. Research in Higher Education, 46(7), 803-830.

Boice, R. (2000).  Advice for new faculty members.  Boston:  Allyn and Bacon.

Higgins, M. C., Chandler, D. E., & Kram, K. E. (2007).  Developmental initiation and
            developmental networks.  In B.R. Ragins, & K.E. Kram (Eds.), The Handbook
            of Mentoring at Work: Theory, Research and Practice (pp. 349-372).  Los Angeles: Sage.

Johnson, J. A., & DeSpain, B. C. (2004). Mentoring the reluctant writer. The Professional
            Educator, 26(2),  45-55.

Sorcinelli, M. D. & Jung, Y. (2007).  From mentor to mentoring networks: Mentoring
            in the new academy.  Change, 39(6). Retrieved August 28, 2008, from

Zhou, Y., & Volkwein, F. (2004). Examining the influences of faculty departure
intentions: A comparison of tenured versus non-tenured faculty at research universities using NSOPF-99. Research in Higher Education, 45(2), 139-176.