Sharing Knowledge, Experience, and Support

Changing approaches to mentoring in the academy

Allison Adams


William Hamilton, “Calypso receiving Telemachus and Mentor in the Grotto,” Eighteenth CenturyIn Homer’s Odyssey, Telemachus, the son of Odysseus, is placed in the care of the wise old man Mentor while his father goes off to the Trojan War. Mentor teaches and advises the boy, but as he grows up, the goddess Athena takes the form of Mentor to approach Telemachus and offer him the wisdom and guidance he needs to find his father and reclaim his birthright. 

Thus it was that even at its earliest conceptions, a “mentor” was not a single individual. In fact, Telemachus needs both Mentor and Athena to succeed in his quest. And recent research shows that the multiple mentor model—academic mentoring by way of peer groups—is emerging as a powerful alternative to the one-on-one model. A 2012 study that evaluated a peer mentoring group that met over four years found that the benefits included improved workplace satisfaction, social connection, scholarly productivity, collaboration, and more. A second study that same year showed that participants in five academic medicine mentoring groups reported after one year an increase in their
satisfaction with academic achievement, improvement in medical literature search skills, and improved ability to critical evaluate the literature.

In 2013, the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence (CFDE) launched a pilot peer mentoring program aimed at exactly those sorts of improvements and advantages for faculty below associate level. Eight mentoring groups of peers, each group facilitated by a senior faculty member, focused on informal meetings and networking as well as more formal professional development opportunities. Peer groups combined junior faculty from different schools with the intention of creating a sense of a cohort that spans the university. From January to May of 2014, the groups gathered for development activities that helped drive the participants toward professional goals they had set for themselves. 

The evaluations of the program after its conclusion were, as CFDE director Pamela Scully puts it, “interesting and somewhat conflicting: some people really liked the interdisciplinary nature of the peer groups, while others did not. Seventy-seven percent of the mentees, however, said they had met at least one of their goals during the semester. From the mentors we heard that they would like training on mentoring.”

The multiple mentor model—academic mentoring by way
of peer groups—is emerging as a powerful alternative to the one-on-one model.

Scully goes on to say that the CFDE is using the current 2014-15 academic year to investigate mentoring best practices beyond Emory. “This will add to the study we did this past summer on mentoring of faculty at Emory,” she says. “One of our goals is to find out what mentoring needs to happen at the central level and what is best done in the individual schools.”

In 2013-14 the Commission on the Liberal Arts also took a keen interest in mentoring on the Emory campus, ranging from faculty mentoring programs to those that focus on graduate and undergraduate students. In February 2014, the Commission and the CFDE co-sponsored a panel discussion that featured several successful mentoring initiatives within the professional schools, the health sciences, and Emory College. he Commission also developed an extensive annotated inventory of mentoring programs around campus, from student-alumni programs to those benefitting faculty and staff. 

This issue of the Academic Exchange explores some of those programs—new, ongoing, and even one from the past. Prachi Sharma (Yerkes) writes of her experiences participating in the CFDE’s pilot peer mentoring program last year. Pat Marsteller (biology and the Center for Science Education) makes an argument for team mentoring as modeled in the CFDE’s pilot program. Cathryn Johnson and Barry Ryan from the Laney Graduate School describe that school’s new mentoring project that focuses on faculty and graduate student relationships as well as graduate/undergraduate student relationships. Then Sheryl Herron and Natasha Southworth from the Center for Injury Control explain the longtime, successful mentoring program in that Center.

A Q&A with Kim Loudermilk (Emory College) examines the lessons of the “Passages” mentoring program for faculty, which existed from 1999 to 2004. A second Q&A with Peter Brown (anthropology and global health), 2014 winner of Cuttino Award in Mentoring, reveals one experienced mentor’s secrets of success. Deborah Bruner of the nursing school, who was a vice-chair of the Commission on the Liberal Arts, then posits an idea of how lifelong mentoring programs within the university might be structured. To conclude the issue, Pamela Tipton from the Goizueta Business School discusses some of the effective mentoring
programs in the business school and why they work.