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Tales from Real Life: Searching for Answers

As colleagues and co-authors, we represent different generations, disciplines, and cultural backgrounds. Yet we can both point to past mentoring relationships that have had a significant impact on our careers, as well as less-than-successful relationships that fell somewhat short. One of us had a teacher in college and again in graduate school who exemplified the best characteristics of a traditional mentoring relationship, i.e., highly individualized support and guidance; and the exchange of relevant experience, expertise, and ideas. The other had less positive experiences, complicated by the discomfort of confiding in a mentor who later played a key role on a thesis committee, and mentoring that felt “imposed from above” by a structured matching process based strictly on discipline, rather than other interests (e.g., pedagogy or research methods).

The differences in our respective mentoring experiences are quite significant, but not entirely uncommon. We’ve consulted with hundreds of faculty who have reported a similar range of benefits and drawbacks. In designing a new model of mentoring for our campus, we decided to draw upon our differences to create a more flexible model of support—one that could strengthen faculty connections across career stages and disciplines, promote context-sensitive (rather than one-size-fits-all) mentoring, and empower faculty to make their own choices about their most desirable areas of professional growth.

By Mary Deane Sorcinelli and Jung H. Yun
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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