Quick Guides for Mentors

Giving and Getting Career Advice: A Guide for Junior and Senior Faculty

Tips for senior faculty (by University of Michigan - ADVANCE Program)

As a senior faculty member, you can help shape careers and encourage successful outcomes. You know and can explain the system, pointing out pitfalls, shortcuts, and strategies. Often, junior faculty need to learn what they may not even know to ask. 

Think of your own experiences as a junior faculty member and how you achieved your current status. Giving valued advice is usually rewarding for the senior faculty member, as well as for her or his more junior colleague—in part because it can be an invigorating connection with people in touch with the most recent advances in the field you share. But recognize that it is often difficult and intimidating for junior colleagues to articulate their questions and needs, and to approach more senior faculty. Recall that things you say may—without you intending it—lead them to feel more anxious, more inadequate, or hopeless about their own future. It’s important to contextualize your feedback so it is actually constructive rather than undermining, and offers direction rather than simply criticism.

  1. Let your junior colleagues know that they are welcome to talk with you—just on one occasion or on a frequent basis. The gift of your full attention is often the most important one you can give a less experienced colleague.
  2. Clarify expectations about the extent to which you can, or will, offer guidance concerning personal as well as professional issues. If you are not comfortable assisting in some areas, suggest another faculty member who may be able to assist. Recognize and evaluate what you can offer, and keep in mind that you cannot be expected to fulfill every function.
  3. Inform junior faculty about how frequently you will be able to meet with them. Be explicit if you have a heavy travel schedule, are about to take a sabbatical, or will be assuming an administrative position. Discuss alternative means of communication (e.g., email or telephone) and encourage them to consult others who have proven to be reliable advisors. Try always to keep appointments you do make.
  4. Provide specific information about as many topics as you can, such as the informal rules of the profession and of navigating the department and institution. Help junior faculty learn what kinds of available institutional support they should seek to further their own career development. Tell them about funds to attend a workshop, for example, or release time for special projects.
  5. Recognize that sometimes your own experience is relevant and useful to colleagues who are more junior; hearing accounts of how you accomplished something (or failed to), including obstacles you faced, can help normalize and contextualize experiences for them. At the same time, it’s good to bear in mind that circumstances change in academia, in the various colleges, units, and in departments. So it’s good to underscore the need for junior colleagues to look into specific rules, policies and practices as they currently exist rather than relying on information passed on anecdotally.
  6. Share the “tacit” rules of being successful in the business of research and within the relevant unit with junior colleagues.
  7. Provide opportunities for junior colleagues. For example, suggest his/her name to bea discussant at national meetings or other such opportunities that will increase his/her visibility. Generally, take opportunities to promote the junior faculty member’s research.
  8. Ask your junior colleague to develop and share a work plan that includes short-term and long-term goals as well as a time frame for reaching those goals.
  9. Give criticism as well as praise when warranted. Always present criticism in a private and non-threatening context with specific suggestions for improvement in the future. Rather than emphasize past problems or mistakes, focus on future actions that may remedy or redress those problems.
  10. Tell junior faculty where they stand—how they are doing, whether they are meeting your expectations, and if they are showing what it takes to move up. Be specific. Don’t just tell a junior faculty member that it’s necessary to publish more in high-quality journals, but suggest which journals those are, and give guidelines about approximately how many papers to shoot for in those journals before tenure.
  11. Take responsibility to encourage junior faculty to be proactive about asking questions, seeking feedback, and making connections with senior colleagues. Take the time to make sure junior faculty are doing so.
  12. Communicate. Failing to communicate is the biggest pitfall for all relationships. Remember that face-to-face meetings can often clear up misunderstandings better than email. Problems need to be discussed as soon as possible.

There are a number of specific areas in which you may be in a good position to help, or you may feel it is best to point the junior colleague toward someone who might be a better source of advice.  These include:

  1. Grant-writing. There are many features of the process of obtaining external funding that are unwritten or vague. Advisors can help by clarifying funders’/referees’ criteria for successful grant proposals. Sharing negative experiences you have had in trying to secure outside funding, and how you managed or overcame them, may also be helpful.  In some fields, junior faculty may be well-served by including senior colleagues as Co-PIs, Co-investigators or consultants in grant proposals. Give junior faculty advice about who might be helpful to include. Also, encourage junior faculty to apply for one of several “early career” grants (e.g., K01-Mentored Career Development Award [NIH]; Young Investigator Award [NSF]) and be available to provide substantial feedback on their early efforts.
  2. Fostering networks for your junior colleagues. Whether or not you can provide something a junior colleague needs, suggest other people who might be of assistance:  other UM faculty or colleagues from other universities. Introduce your junior colleagues to those with complementary interests within your unit or department, elsewhere on the UM campus, or at other universities. For example, at conferences, a simple introduction at a coffee break or an invitation to join your table for lunch may be sufficient to initiate a lasting advising relationship for a junior colleague.
  3. Providing forthright assessments of their research through close readings of their work and trying to provide these assessments in a timely manner.
  4. Providing opportunities for junior colleagues. For example, suggest his/her name to be a discussant at national meetings or other such opportunities that will increase his/her visibility. Generally, take opportunities to promote the junior faculty member’s research.

Characteristics of Good Mentors

From Vanderbilt Peer Mentoring Facilitation Guide

Attributes to look for in a mentor:

  • Maturity
  • Self-confidence
  • Vision
  • Mutual respect
  • Good communicator
  • Chemistry in interactions with potential mentee
  • Genuine interest in mentee and his/ her success
  • Responsiveness and availability
  • Willingness to push mentee to aim higher
  • Advocate willing to promote mentee’s success and guide to successful navigation of academic medicine
  • Awareness of what is happening outside the home institution


Signs of an ineffective mentor:

  • Selfish with time
  • Poor character
  • Desire for all of the glory/accolades
  • Exploits the mentee
  • Overprotective (preventing mentee from experiencing any failure)

Tobin's 7 Roles of a Mentor

(Tobin, MJ. (2004). Mentoring: Seven roles and some specifics. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 170:114-117.)

  1. Teacher—provides guidance in the development of technical skills unique to the given area.  This can include topics from how to effectively read the literature, how to develop a manuscript, how to apply for grant funding, etc.
  2. Sponsor—introduces mentee to the new “social world” of the given field. As sponsor, the mentor can help the mentee navigate the interpersonal dynamics and political landscape within the selected field.
  3. Advisor—serves as a “catalyst for growth.”  In the role of advisor, the mentor provides both praise and constructive correction.
  4. Agent—functions to support the mentee by “removing obstacles, but only after the fellow [mentee] has made a convincing attempt”.
  5. Role model—provides a visible demonstration for the mentee of what a successful career can look like.  This allows the mentee to observe the mentor’s actions and attitudes covering topics from priority development to the demonstration of ethical and moral principles in academia.
  6. Coach—motivating the mentee towards growth and success.  The mentor finds the balance between knowing when to provide encouragement for small successes and when to challenge the mentee to improve his/ her efforts, while also helping the mentee “to take risks, to move outside a zone of comfort”.
  7. Confidante—provides the constancy, reliability, integrity and confidentiality needed to support the mentee’s growth in a safe environment.