By Diane Finley, Ph.D., Prince George's Community College
You go in for a meeting with your advisor and she points out a new program available through the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP) – a mentoring program for early career faculty (EC) and advanced graduate students. She recommends that you apply for the program. Your first thoughts: no way – there is no way I can add anything else to my life. I already have classes, teaching, dissertation, meetings with advisors, meetings with the Graduate Student Teaching Association (and not to mention my family and personal life). There is no way I can add one more thing!! Life in a rigorous graduate program can be daunting with all of its competing demands. Why should you make time for the STP Mentoring Program? What is it? How can it benefit you?
First let me talk about what mentoring is and what it is not. The terms “mentor” and “mentoring” are used extensively today to refer to all sorts of relationships in business, academia and even just everyday life. It has become the ultimate appellation to call yourself a mentor and too often, the popular media would have us believe everyone needs a mentor for everything. I think that when the term is overused and/or used incorrectly, it dilutes both the term and the relationship it connotes.
While the term first appeared in Homer’s Odyssey, its current connotations first appeared in the United States in the late 1800s and it was largely confined to experienced teachers shepherding novice teachers. In 1910, mentoring took on the meaning of helping a younger person with the founding of the Big Brothers Organization. However, it was not until 1973 that we first see the term in the research literature (Irby & Boswell, 2016). Mentoring programs are now found in most universities and businesses. Mentoring programs for new faculty are essentially de rigueur although they vary greatly. So, it is highly likely that you will be part of some sort of mentoring program. How is STP’s Mentoring Program different from those at academic institutions and why should you consider applying?
What really is a mentor, at least in the work of academia? One comprehensive definition is “mentors are advisors, people with career experience willing to share their knowledge; supporters, people who give emotional and moral encouragement; tutors, people who give specific feedback on one’s performance; masters in the sense of employers to whom one is apprenticed; sponsors, sources of information about and aids in obtaining opportunities; models of identity, of the kinds of person one should be to be an academic” (Zelditch, 1990). The aim of STP’s Professional Development Mentoring Program is to provide EC individuals with career-related assistance to improve their performance early in their academic careers and to help with the transition to faculty. STP members are generally eager to share their wisdom and experiences with newer faculty who get the benefit of an experienced professional with no role in their evaluation. Mentors are not asked to assume specific roles for their mentees. But all STP mentors have extensive academic experience and they are willing to share their experiences and knowledge.
The program is built around the needs and interests of the EC individual or advanced graduate student, who will specify her or his goals and interests in the application. As Director of the Mentoring Program, I try to match mentors and mentees based upon these interests. Communication takes place through phone, internet (e.g., Skype, Zoom), and email. Mentees are not matched with anyone from their own institution. Having an experienced colleague not at your own institution can provide a sense of safe harbor and give you a place for questions that you may not want to ask senior faculty or even a mentor at a new institution. They can provide a wider viewpoint about academia which can help new faculty develop perspective. Mentors can provide guidance about navigating the academic career at different types of institutions.
In the research literature, we see that mentors serve as advisors, role models, coaches, and even support teams. In the evaluations from the first year of the STP Mentoring Program, I saw mentors who assumed all of those roles as well as many others, including listener. Contact occurred most often on a monthly basis, but most mentors said they let their mentees decide how much contact was needed. It was more frequent in the fall, the first semester of the yearlong program.
In the literature on mentoring in higher education, several topics emerge as common to mentees: stress overload and managing multiple responsibilities, information on teaching (online, hybrid, large classes, new topics), establishing credibility and connecting with professional organizations. In the recent evaluations, our pairs followed these patterns with the addition of some discussion of research programs and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) as well as strategies for promotion/tenure. In monthly emails, I send out suggestions on topics for discussion as well as resources to help pairs find common ground.
It can be daunting to add one more thing to do in an already packed schedule. However, I would encourage you to consider this program. Scheduling an hour or two a month can be a part of self-care and give you someone with whom you can talk without concerns about evaluation. The research literature shows that new faculty who are mentored have an easier transition into the role of faculty and they show an increase in job satisfaction. On the recent evaluations, mentees overwhelmingly reported that the program was helpful, and they wished they had more time to spend with their mentor.
The STP Mentoring Program is really designed to help new psychology faculty find a colleague within the discipline but outside of the home institution. This additional mentor is there to answer questions (or bring them to the larger mentoring program participants) and serve as a support. The evaluations were overwhelmingly positive in their assessment of the program as a help in their early years of teaching. Advanced graduate students who are teaching are welcome to apply for the program. The program runs from August-May (the traditional academic year). Applications will be available on the STP website - http://teachpsych.org/page-1603031- in late May 2019. Participants do need to be members of STP so be sure to keep yours current!
Irby, B. J., & Boswell, J. (2016) Historical print context of the term, “mentoring.” Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 24(1), 1-7, DOI: 10.1080/13611267.2016.1170556
Zelditch, M. (1990, March). Mentor roles. Paper Presented at the 32nd Annual Meeting of the Western Association of Graduate Schools. Tempe, AZ.
Establishing productive mentoring relationships (n.d.) Retrieved August 1, 2004 from http://www.gse.uci.edu/doehome/EdResource/Publications/MentorTeacher/Chapter3.1.html
Kanuka, H. (n.d.). Does mentoring new faculty make a difference? Learning Commons. Retrieved July 31, 2004 from http://commons.ucalgary.ca/documents/Mentoring_p1.pdf
Rackham Graduate School, University of Michigan. (2018). How to Get the Mentoring You Want: A Guide for Graduate Students. PDF available online: https://www.rackham.umich.edu/downloads/publications/mentoring.pdf.
Diane Finley, PhD, is a psychology professor at Prince George’s Community College. Dr. Finley has been active in the STP, having formerly served as the Vice President for Membership from 2010 to 2016. Well-known for her enthusiasm for teaching, Dr. Finley is the recipient of the American Psychological Association’s 2015 Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus Award.