Mentors: Cultivation Phase Resources

phases_stones_cultivation1In the Cultivation phase, the mentor and mentee follow through on the expectations and timelines outlined in the Alignment phase, modifying the specifics as the relationship plays out. Mentoring teams become fully assembled with clearly defined roles relating to the scientific and career development needs and goals of the mentee. For you as a mentor, the cultivation phase means tailoring opportunities to your mentee that foster their growth and then providing the encouragement and agreed upon resources that empower them to succeed and become more independent.

Mentor Responsibilities in the Cultivation Phase:

  • Advise on what you know; admit what you don’t and refer to others
  • Provide relevant examples and resources
  • Recognize your mentee’s strengths and areas of growth
  • Give constructive feedback
  • Foster your mentee’s independence
  • Respond to the changing needs of your mentee
  • Don’t shy away from difficult conversations
  • Celebrate successes
  • Revisit mentoring plans, IDPs, expectations
  • Periodically evaluate progress and assess relationship

Cultivation Resources

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Supporting Learning and Assessing Understanding

Scaffolding learning

The term “scaffolding” was developed as a metaphor to describe the type of assistance offered by a teacher or peer to support learning. In the process of scaffolding, the teacher or mentor helps the mentee master a task or concept that they are initially unable to grasp independently. The mentor offers assistance with only those skills that are beyond the mentee’s capability. Of great importance is allowing the mentee to complete as much of the task as possible, unassisted. The mentor only attempts to help the student with tasks that are just beyond her/his current capability. Errors are expected, but, with mentor feedback and prompting, the mentee is able to achieve the task or goal.

When the mentee takes responsibility for or masters the task, the mentor then begins the process of “fading”, or the gradual removal of the scaffolding, which allows the student to work independently.

Strategies for Scaffolding Learning:

Many different facilitative tools can be utilized in scaffolding student learning. Among them are:

  • Breaking the task into smaller more, manageable parts
  • Using “think alouds”, or verbalizing thinking processes when completing a task
  • Employing cooperative learning, which promotes teamwork and dialogue among peers
  • Giving concrete prompts, questioning, coaching
  • Modeling
  • Activating background knowledge, giving tips, strategies, cues and procedures

Important: Mentors have to be mindful to keep your mentee in pursuit of the task while minimizing their stress level. Skills or tasks too far out of reach can lead your mentee to feel frustrated, and tasks that are too simple can cause much the same effect.

Assessing Students’ Thinking Processes:

Assessing understanding during the learning process is called formative assessment, and serves two primary functions:

  1. It exposes misconceptions or misapplications at an early stage, while knowledge, skills, and attitudes are still being formed, and allows for re-instruction or direction change.
  2. It requires mentees to think about what they are doing. Doing so helps your mentee “keep their eyes on the prize”, engages them in critical thinking, and helps shift information from short term memory to long term memory, thus advancing the learning process in and of itself.

As your mentee advances, so should their ability to think about their own learning, to self-monitor and self-regulate. Your mentoring should scaffold this process, providing more structure and modeling at the beginning of the relationship or project and increasingly less as the mentee grows in autonomy. Many times we assume our mentees understood our meaning, but how can we be sure?

Strategies for Assessing Understanding

  1. Take a minute to consider any assumptions you have made about what your mentee knows or does not know.
  2. At key moments in the research process, ask your mentee to explain in their own words what the results are and how they got there.
  3. Ask your mentee to explain something to another person in your lab group.
  4. Ask your mentee to organize information with a flowchart, diagram, or concept map.
  5. Ask questions that foster meta-cognition, such as:
    1. How did you come to that conclusion? What evidence supports it
    2. What experience or literature made you choose that course of action?
    3. Can you illustrate your thinking process on this project?

Maintaining effective communication

Virtually every aspect of successful mentoring relies on effective communication. Four key skills for effective communication in mentoring relationships are:

  1. Increase your awareness of yourself and others.
    You are the instrument through which mentoring happens, both as mentor and mentee. The more you are clear about your own agenda and able to separate out your own thoughts, feelings, and wants from those of your mentor/mentee, the greater the potential for intentional partnership and mutual benefit.”In each moment you spend in another person’s presence, you are communicating that person’s importance to you. Are you doing this consciously or unconsciously?” – Denise Holmes
  2. Get curious about the other person’s story.
    Listening in order to learn something new (rather than to confirm what you already know) is essential to good mentoring. When you get curious about the other person’s story, you open up the possibility of greater connection and value for both parties.”In order to understand what another person is saying, you must assume that it is true, and try to imagine what it could be true of.” – George Miller
  3. Listen for passion and potential.
    Effective communication in mentoring requires understanding what makes the other person tick, what has brought them to this moment in their career, and where they would like to go next.
    Read more about active listening.
    “Listening for potential means listening to people as if they have all the tools they need to be successful, and could simply benefit from exploring their thoughts and ideas out loud.” – David Rock
  4. Share your own crystallized experience.
    One of the pleasures of mentoring is the chance to share one’s own hard-earned experience so that it might be helpful to others coming along a similar path.
    Read more about giving and receiving feedback

“Ecologists tell us that a tree planted in a clearing of an old forest will grow more successfully than one planted in an open field. The reason, it seems, is that the roots of the forest tree are able to follow the intricate pathways created by former trees and thus imbed themselves more deeply. This literally enables stronger trees to share resources with the weaker so that the whole forest becomes healthier. Similarly, human beings thrive best when we grow in the presence of those who have gone before.” – Parks Daloz


Communicating Ethics

How do ethics intersect with the mentee-mentor relationship?

As a mentor you have the responsibility of teaching and role modeling the appropriate ethical behavior for academic professionals. Ethics involve the use of reasoned moral judgments to examine one’s responsibility in any given situation. You also have the obligation to teach mentees about the responsible conduct of research as well as the ethical issues associated with being an educator and clinician. Both mentors and mentees have the responsibility of behaving ethically in their relationship.

What elements are associated with appropriate ethical behavior in the mentee-mentor relationship?

    • Promoting mutual respect and trust
    • Maintaining confidentiality
    • Being diligent in providing knowledge, wisdom, and developmental support
    • Maintaining vigilance with regard to the mentee-mentor relationship. (The power differential increases the mentor’s obligation to be cognizant of the mentee’s feelings and rights)
    • Acknowledging skills and experiences that each bring to the mentee-mentor relationship
    • Carefully framing advice and feedback
    • Role-modeling

What elements are associated with appropriate ethical behavior as academic professionals?

    • Agreeing on and abiding by rules of authorship
    • Supporting and appreciating accomplishments
    • Avoiding abuse of power (including exploitation and assuming credit for another’s work)
    • Being alert to ethical issues and challenges
    • Avoiding conflicts of interest (avoiding political and personal biases)

What elements are associated with the responsible conduct of research?

    • Having a commitment to intellectual honesty
    • Accurately representing an individual’s contribution to research
    • Following governmental and institutional rules, regulations, and policies
    • Avoiding conflicts of interest (avoiding financial and other influences)

This section adapted from the Institute for Clinical Research Education Mentoring Resources, University of Pittsburgh:

Mentoring Across Differences

Individuals bring a wide range of different life experiences to their mentoring relationships. Three key principles can help mentors and mentees bridge the potential differences to create satisfying mentoring relationships.

  1. Be aware of your own assumptions.
    In the same way that others may have different points of view because of differences in their life experiences, you likely have been shaped by your gender, race, social class, education, generation, geography, and a multitude of other cultural influences. Increasing your awareness of the ways you are a product of your past can help you avoid assuming that others see the world in the same way.
  2. Get curious about the experience of colleagues who have different life experiences.
    Putting yourself in other people’s shoes and seeking to understand how they may have come to their different points of view is a critical step in building a mentoring relationship.
  3. Address differences openly.
    Relationships in which it becomes comfortable to talk about and acknowledge differences have much greater potential value for both mentor and mentee. While it may initially feel uncomfortable to talk about topics such as race, gender, and/or socioeconomic background, the potential for increased understanding and connection makes it worth the risk.

Managing Mentoring Challenges

Whenever people work together, there are bound to be times when the relationships are challenged. Disagreements occur in even the best working relationships.

Read more about common challenges and strategies for addressing them

In healthy situations, the issues are discussed objectively. Each individual is empowered to state his or her position and feel confident that the other is genuinely listening and wanting to understand. Possible solutions are explored with open minds, and the potential effects of the solutions are considered and weighed. It’s an easy process to understand, but more often than not it’s incredibly difficult to do. People want what they want, believe what they believe, and value what they value. In this section, our goal is to identify some problems that mentors and mentees have encountered and to suggest potential strategies for resolving each problem.

Read more about practical communication tips for resolving conflict

This section adapted with permission from the Institute for Clinical Research Education Mentoring Resources, University of Pittsburgh:

Assessing the Relationship

Formally evaluating the mentoring relationship is a relatively new effort, with little consensus yet on which instrument to use and how to feed the collected information back to you as mentor. However, if an explicit plan and expectations have been laid out at the beginning of the relationship, regular “check ups” on research progress and the health of the relationship is not only possible but necessary if the mentee’s full potential is to be realized.

As you negotiate your expectations at the beginning of the relationship, be sure to lay the ground work for ongoing assessment:

  1. What do you want to measure?
  2. What are your criteria for success?
  3. How will you go about measuring success?

Be sure to include measures for each domain of the mentoring relationship:

  1. Meetings and Communication
  2. Expectations and Feedback
  3. Career Development
  4. Research Support
  5. Psychosocial Support

As always, the instruments you use need to be tailored to your individual relationship; effective assessment relies upon both parties feeling free to be honest and forthright. Leverage these existing evaluation templates as you negotiate how you will evaluate your relationship success with your mentee.

Resources & Suggested Readings

Downloadable Resources

A collection of example mentor evaluation templates

Relevant Readings

Topics include: evaluation of mentorship, working relationship

  • Burnham E, Schiro S, Fleming M. (2011). Mentoring K scholars: Strategies to Support Research Mentors. Journal of Clinical and Translational Science, 4(3):204-209.
  • Meagher et al. (2011). Evaluating Research Mentors Working in the Area of Clinical Translational Science: A Review of the Literature. Journal of Clinical and Translational Science. In press.
  • Taylor et al. (2011). Evaluating and Giving Feedback to Research Mentors Working in Clinical Translational Science: New Evidence-based Approaches. Journal of Clinical and Translational Science. In press.
  • Bickel, J., & Rosenthal, S. L. (2011). Difficult issues in mentoring: Recommendations on making the “undiscussable” discussable. Academic Medicine : Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, 86(10): 1229-1234.
  • Allen, T., & Eby, L. (2003). Relationship effectiveness for mentors: Factors associated with learning and quality. Journal of Management, 29(4), 469-486.
  • Berk, R., et al. (2005). Measuring the effectiveness of faculty mentoring relationships. Academic Medicine.Featured Topic: Patient-Centered Care, 80(1), 66-71.
  • Balmer, D., D’Alessandro, D., Risko, W., & Gusic, M. E. (2011). How mentoring relationships evolve: A longitudinal study of academic pediatricians in a physician educator faculty development program. The Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions, 31(2), 81-86.
  • Anderson, L., Silet, K., & Fleming, M. (2012). Evaluating and giving feedback to mentors: New evidence-based approaches. Clinical and Translational Science, 5(1), 71-77.
  • Bickel, J., & Brown, A. J. (2005). Generation X: Implications for faculty recruitment and development in academic health centers. Academic Medicine : Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, 80(3), 205-210.
  • Carr, P. L., Palepu, A., Szalacha, L., Caswell, C., & Inui, T. (2007). “Flying below the radar”: A qualitative study of minority experience and management of discrimination in academic medicine. Medical Education, 41(6), 601-609.
  • Ende, Jack. (2010). Feedback in Medical Education. Journal of American Medical Association, 250, 777-781.
  • Feldman, D. C. (1999). Toxic mentors or toxic protégés? A critical re-examination of dysfunctional mentoring. Human Resource Management Review, 9(3), 247.
  • Mahoney, M. R., Wilson, E., Odom, K. L., Flowers, L., & Adler, S. R. (2008). Minority faculty voices on diversity in academic medicine: Perspectives from one school. Academic Medicine, 83(8), 781-786.
  • Rogers, J. (2008). Toward measuring the domains of mentoring. Family Medicine, 40(4), 259.
  • Zerzan, J. T., Hess, R., Schur, E., Phillips, R. S., & Rigotti, N. (2009). Making the most of mentors: A guide for mentees. Academic Medicine, 84(1), 140-144.