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Session on Mentorship Inspires Faculty and Graduate Students

The Office of Research and Engagement’s RCR Lunch and Learn series continued this week with two opportunities for graduate students, faculty, and staff on campus to attend a presentation led by Ernest Brothers, Associate Dean of the Graduate School, and Suzie Allard, Associate Dean for Research and Director of the Center for Information and Communication Studies, on the topic of Mentor and Trainee Responsibilities and IDP Best Practices. Though the session dealt in specifics of responsibilities and accountability for mentors and their protégés, it was also warm and inspiring discussion of the power of mentorship and the importance of quality participation in mentoring relationships to robust academic dialogue, research, and the pursuit of quality scholarly work.

The fact that quality mentorship is essential to the mentee’s professional development and career advancement is well known. What is less commonly discussed is the symbiotic relationship of mentor to trainee and the developing views in academia on the primary purpose of mentorship, moving away from prior periods’ emphasis on the creation of “mini me’s” within institutions. The session discussed numerous kinds of mentoring, from mentoring of new faculty to the session’s primary focus, mentorship of graduate students by faculty members.

Brothers and Allard were clear in defining the difference between advising and mentoring. While advising plays a role in mentorship, the two are not equivalent. Mentorship fundamentally requires a deeper relationship than advising would. Attentive, involved faculty mentors are critical in the success of graduate students. Mentors act as role models for their protégés, providing them with opportunities for professional development and advancement, access to an intellectual community, sponsorship, access to challenging and beneficial opportunities for growth, emotional support, and substantial ongoing professional feedback. Guiding and advising the student is the crux of the relationship, but caring and mutual trust along with the sharing of information, tips, and expertise are also essential to successful mentorship.



“Graduate students, contrary to common belief, do not come without assembly required,” Brothers opined during the talk. “Institutionally it is essential that a mentor pass on what it is like to be in a given department or institution, cultural norms, paths to success. Faculty members must ask themselves: ‘How can I best guide?’”

Mentorship appears in many formats, from the very traditional “apprentice” structure to peer to peer, formal or informal mentor relationships, and team or group mentoring. Cross cultural mentoring, for instance, is one model that fosters successful mentoring relationships in a contemporary academic setting by explicitly addressing the personal, social, political and historical context of the protégé’s life course, giving the mentor a sense of who that student is and where they come from which may influence their individual perspective. Network mentoring utilizes a network of mentors to provide students with assistance in several specific areas. It alleviates the pressure of a single individual serving as the sole portal for information and guidance to a student, and allows the network to instead provide support and guidance to students across the multiple roles a mentor can play in a mentee’s academic life.

Suzie Allard


There are defined phases of the mentor relationship, beginning with initiation wherein the mentor and trainee get to know one another, communicate needs and boundaries, and begin to establish a professional relationship. The cultivation phase involves the parties refining what works in their relationship and making adjustments. The separation phase occurs when the mentor and trainee part ways (sometimes temporarily). Mentors, formally or otherwise, can shape students for five minutes or ten years or a lifetime. The redefinition phase occurs when the separation is not permanent, allowing the professional relationship to evolve and change as the protégé comes into his or her own and may even serve in the mentor role at some point.

Extensive discussion concerned the creation and implementation of Individual Development Plans or IDPs. IDP’s facilitate development and advancement by structuring mentor-protégé communication and professional goal setting. Brothers and Allard emphasized the use of SMART Goal Setting: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time Bound goals. IDPs are increasingly required for students and post-doctoral fellows working on grants (for instance, as of 2014, any graduate student or post-doctoral fellow serving on an NIH funded grant must have an IDP in place) and include the identification of and substantial investment of time, resources, and support from a professional mentor or team of mentors. The plans serve to structure the communication and contact between mentors and mentees. The plans begin with the trainee’s self-assessment of where they are in their chosen trajectory, followed by the identification of goals and the development of a specific plan for accomplishing those goals and how (step by step) and setting a timeline for the completion of those steps.

At one point in the session, Brothers discussed mentorship as compared to the theory that marriage should be a “50/50 relationship” and reminded the audience that “if a relationship is ultimately to be 50/50, it is not always going to be that 50/50. Some days it’s 99/1 one way or the other. The idea is that it will ultimately average out to a symbiosis.”

It is essential to emphasize that the protégé has heavy responsibility in the mentoring relationship as well. In order to be successful, mentees must be responsive to their mentors, have good follow through, and be open to feedback. They are charged with “driving their own experience” by understanding the resources available to them and actively seeking them out among peer and faculty mentors. Mentors provide their trainees with vital career socialization and professional development for advancement, but the success of the arrangement requires substantial input from both the mentor and mentee and both must strive to be active listeners, be curious, help one another to learn, to learn actively themselves, understand their broader environment, maintain responsibility, accountability, and respect and, ultimately, embrace change. The key takeaway of the session, which left students and faculty alike engaged and asking eager questions, was the focus on mentorship as an active and reciprocal relationship.

  • Information on other topics in the Responsible Conduct of Research can be accessed here.
  • View the US Office of Research Integrity’s resources on Mentor and Trainee Responsibilities here.
  • Access information on the Individual Development Plan (IDP) Program at UT here and further information on IDPs for graduate students here.
  • The Graduate School hosts resources and information on training and mentorship on their website.
  • Register for the remaining sessions of the RCR Lunch & Learn here.

Samantha Ehrlich, assistant professor in the department of public health, attended the session and served as rapporteur for the topic.