Sixteen research-based questions to ask when someone proposes a mentoring program

Brian Ujiie Flickr CC-BY-NC-2.0

Brian Ujiie  CC-BY-NC-2.0

I’ve spent most of the past few weeks in meetings discussing support for university teachers and researchers. Inevitably someone suggests the university should offer a ‘mentoring’ program – but what exactly does that mean? I have a PhD in mentoring but to be honest, I can’t give you a good answer to that question. The research literature can give you more than fifty answers, all at odds with each other.

By going into mentoring half-cocked, with a set of unstated assumptions about what mentoring means, we risk wasting time and money. Even worse, a mentoring program that hasn’t been thoroughly thought through can hurt rather than help; in the research we call this the ‘dark side’ of mentoring.

Although I can’t offer an explanation of what the word ‘mentoring’ means, I can give some questions you can ask to find out what someone else means when they propose a mentoring program. These are adapted from my latest article:

Dawson, P. (2014). Beyond a Definition: Toward a Framework for Designing and Specifying Mentoring Models. Educational Researcher. doi:10.3102/0013189×14528751

You can download a free copy of the article here.

The sixteen questions you should ask when someone is proposing a mentoring program

  1. Objectives: What does the program aim to achieve?
  2. Roles: Who is involved, and what do you expect them to do? (eg mentor, mentee, program coordinator)
  3. Cardinality: How many of each sort of role is involved? (eg 1:1 mentoring; group mentoring)
  4. Tie strength: How close do you expect the relationships to be?
  5. Relative seniority: How senior are the mentors compared to the mentees? (don’t forget peer mentoring can be awesome too!)
  6. Time: How much time, how often, and for what period?
  7. Selection: How are mentors, mentees and others chosen to participate?
  8. Matching: How will mentors and mentees be paired up?
  9. Activities: What do you anticipate will happen in the mentoring program?
  10. Resources and tools: What will be provided to help these relationships blossom? (I’ve seen a huge range here – from manuals to meeting rooms – but I’m convinced that coffee vouchers are the most effective!)
  11. Role of technology: Will these relationships be technology-mediated? (Think  beyond ‘online vs offline’. In my opinion the best online mentoring relationships start with getting to know each other offline)
  12. Training: What courses or materials will be provided to learn about mentoring? (Not just for mentors – some excellent mentoring programs provide training to mentees too)
  13. Rewards: Will people get paid or receive something else for participating? (Remember to think about intangible benefits too)
  14. Policy: What are the ‘rules’ of the mentoring program?
  15. Monitoring: How will you know if something is going wrong – and what will the program coordinator do? (Alternatively – think about what to do if something amazing is happening too!)
  16. Termination: How will relationships end? (Consider triggers and consequences here – but my favorite mentoring programs have a ‘no fault exit clause’)

In the journal article I discuss two of my favorite mentoring programs and how they address these questions. Please get in touch – comment or email – if you find these questions useful. Even better, let me know if you think these are wrong or I’ve missed something!

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