University of Wisconsin–Madison

Mentors: Selection Phase Resources

phases_stones_selection1The selection phase begins by taking the time to gain clarity about your motivation to mentor as well as the strengths, goals, and areas of development of your potential mentee. The more information you can gain and share in investigatory meetings with potential mentees the better the ultimate fit will be. Review the material below to set yourself up for a successful match.

Mentor Responsibilities in the Selection phase:

  • Have a clear understanding of your motivation to be a mentor
  • Agree to mentor based on a realistic assessment of your skills, leadership experience and availability
  • Be open to mentoring individuals from outside your discipline
  • Train to be a more effective mentor

Selection Resources

  • Questions to ask yourself before you begin

    What is your motivation?

    Are you interested in working with junior researchers who have stimulating ideas, who would benefit from opportunities to learn and grow with and from you? Good mentors engage with promising people with promising ideas about an area of research related to their work to deepen their translational reach and understanding. What do you need in order to bring your best self forward as a mentor? Gain insight into your decision process by writing a mentoring philosophy for your own reflection, which you can also share with potential mentees.

    Do you have time to mentor?

    Like all relationships, mentoring takes a significant investment of time. To help you assess whether you are willing to make that investment, ask yourself these questions when considering whether to take on a new mentee.

    What are mentees looking for?

    The supports mentors provide are many, and you should not feel as if you need to meet each of the needs for every mentee. Instead, help potential mentees understand what it is you can provide and determine what unmet needs other mentors might provide as part of a mentor team. To help you determine the mentee’s needs and your own resources, consider common roles and expectations for mentors and mentees as a starting point.

    How can you get started?

    The initial conversations between you and your mentee set the tone for the relationship. The focus should be on who you are as individuals and what you each bring to the relationship (your background, context, culture, strengths, etc). To help ensure your conversation is comprehensive, consider the questions and strategies for your initial mentoring conversations included in the Initial Conversations document linked below. Remember that development of the mentee is the key focus of the mentoring relationship; having the mentee complete an Individual Development Plan will help the mentee articulate their desires and needs and will give you both a clear place from which to begin your conversations.

    Should you consider team mentoring?

    The days of a singular mentoring dyad are quickly passing. Limited time and the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of science are among the external forces that are encouraging mentors to combine forces with colleagues to meet the diverse needs of a singular mentee, allowing each mentor to leverage their strengths. Learn more about team mentoring.

    How can you become a more effective mentor?

    Strong mentorship has been linked to enhanced mentee productivity, self-efficacy, career satisfaction, and is an important predictor of the academic success of scientists in training. Despite this, mentoring is typically learned by example, trial and error, and peer observation.

    To address this lack of training, several research institutions have developed curricula to help mentors learn to effectively establish expectations, consider issues of human diversity, and develop a reflective approach to mentoring:

  • Mentee selection

    While each mentoring relationship is unique, there are qualities successful research mentees generally share. You may wish to assess some of the qualities as you decide whether to take on a new mentee:

    Mentee Qualities:

    • Passion
    • Self-insight
    • Drive
    • Works well independently and as part of a team
    • Takes the initiative and follow through on projects
    • Stimulate your thinking
    • Sense of curiosity and creativity
    • Comfortable with more than one outcome
    • Able to give an honest assessment of their own strengths and areas of growth

    Interview Questions and Strategies:

    Frequent conversations, especially early on in the relationship building process, will provide the best opportunity for you to discover what it would be like to work with the potential mentee. Some questions/strategies to consider include:

      • If this mentee would be joining your lab or research group, provide an opportunity for them to sit in on a lab/group meeting and get a feel for the members of your team and your leadership style.
        • Can they complement skills you already have in place in your research group?
        • Do they communicate well with those with whom they would be closely working?
      • Why are they interested in working with you (beyond shared research interests)?
      • Can you agree on a discrete chunk of research that the mentee can take ownership of?
    • Talk directly with mentee’s references; do not rely on written letters of support or email.
    • If the potential mentee has not already done so, have them complete an Individual Development Plan (IDP). IDPs stimulate mentee’s thinking around their strengths, goals, and areas of growth and serve as an effective communication tool between the mentor and mentee. How do their strengths align with your needs? How do your strengths align with their needs?

    Assessing Fit

    • Mentors and mentees alike should take the time early on to asses whether a particular mentoring arrangement is right. The key question to ask is whether or not this mentor (or team of mentors) is the most appropriate advisor for this mentee at this time considering the mentee’s current development needs and long term professional aspiration.
    • Frequent conversations, especially upfront in the relationship, will help to assess fit and begin to develop the necessary trust for a successful relationship. To help in this process, use the Assessing Fit Checklist (link below) to ensure your conversations have covered appropriate ground and resulted in a shared commitment.

    PDF Resource: Assessing Fit Checklist

  • Downloads & Suggested Readings

    Downloadable Resources

    Relevant Readings

    Topics include: Selecting a mentor, Mentor alignment, “Is this profession for you?”

      • Bettmann, M. (2009). Choosing a research project and a research mentor. Circulation, 119(13), 1832-1835.
      • Carey, E. C., & Weissman, D. E. (2010). Understanding and finding mentorship: A review for junior faculty. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 13(11), 1373-1379.
      • Gusic, M. E., Zenni, E. A., Ludwig, S., & First, L. R. (2010). Strategies to design an effective mentoring program. The Journal of Pediatrics, 156(2), 173-174.
      • Reckelhoff, J. (2008). How to choose a mentor. American Psysiological Society, 51(4).
      • Burnham E, Fleming M. (2011). Selection of Research Mentors for K-Funded Scholars. Journal of Clinical and Translational Science, 4(2): 87-92.
      • Cho, C. S., Ramanan, R. A., & Feldman, M. D. (2011). Defining the ideal qualities of mentorship: A qualitative analysis of the characteristics of outstanding mentors. The American Journal of Medicine, 124(5), 453-458.
      • Ensher, E., & Murphy, S. (1997). Effects of race, gender, perceived similarity, and contact on mentor relationships. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 50(3), 460-481.
      • Farrell, S.E., Digioia, N.M., Broderick, K.B., Coates, W.C. (2004). Mentoring for clinician-educators. Academic Emergency Medicine, 11(12), 1346-1350.
      • Jackson, V. A., Palepu, A., Szalacha, L., Caswell, C., Carr, P. L., & Inui, T. S. (2003). “Having the right chemistry”: A qualitative study of mentoring in academic medicine. Academic Medicine, 78(3), 328-334.
      • Shepard, M. E., Sastre, E. A., Davidson, M. A., & Fleming, A. E. (2012). Use of individualized learning plans among fourth-year sub-interns in pediatrics and internal medicine. Medical Teacher, 34(1), e46-51.