Office of the Vice Provost of Academic Affairs

Office of Faculty Development and
July 2018
Best Practices in Faculty Mentoring

The following is offered by the Provost's Office as guidance to faculty and department chairs regarding Best Practices in Faculty Mentoring. The document provides suggested guidelines and processes for effective mentoring. It is not intended, however, to cover all aspects of mentoring and is not meant to substitute for guidelines provided by individual departments, schools and colleges. 


Faculty mentoring is a critical tool in faculty development and in facilitating faculty success and retention. A formal mentoring program is one where one or more mentors are assigned to a mentee. Mentors assume responsibility for facilitating the professional development of the mentee through potential activities including: providing information, advice, encouragement, and connections to other mentors, colleagues and professional networks. Ideally, the relationship is mutually beneficial. One mentor cannot fulfill all of a mentee’s needs. Mentees have a responsibility to build on and supplement the more formal mentor/mentee relationship, with other mentors and career development offerings.
Why Establish a Mentoring Program?

  • To provide support for faculty
  • Clarify expectations for promotion and tenure;
  • Increase retention, and
  • Enhance productivity (e.g., number of publications, grants submitted/funded, etc.).
  • To sustain vitality and productivity of tenured faculty; 
  • To build community, collegiality, and a positive climate;
  • To provide a “safe” venue to discuss concerns, particularly for underrepresented faculty, who may face particular challenges, including isolation, exclusion from informal collegial networks, unconscious bias, and devaluation of scholarship focused on minorities or women (all concerns raised at the 2016 academic work life survey), and
  •  Because it works: Research indicates that junior faculty members who received mentoring averaged 0.4 more NSF or NIH grants and 3 additional publications, and were 25 percentage points more likely to have a top-tier publication than faculty without mentors (Blau et al (2010) American Economic Review, 100:348-52, Ibarra et al., 2010; Bickel, 2014 have also found that mentoring is important for women and minority faculty. 

Possible Mentoring Formats

  • Traditional: one mentee with one mentor from the same department. Usually for untenured faculty.
  • Potential downsides: if the mentoring relationship fails, the junior faculty member has no mentor; worst case scenario – creates tensions between mentor and mentee with implications for tenure and promotion.
  • Team mentoring: one mentee and a group of mentors, assigned from the mentee’s department, outside the department, or outside the institution; team mentoring often considers various attributes: disciplinary affinity, personal traits (demographic, dual career, parental status).
  • Potential downsides: providing mixed messages from different mentors; faculty external to the department may provide advice that is inconsistent with department norms.
  • Peer mentoring: a group of faculty at a similar career stage who come together to discuss research and personal issues either with or without an assigned senior mentor. 
  • Potential downsides: if faculty are from across departments, they may develop expectations about their own departments that are inconsistent with local norms.
  • Sponsoring: A mentee is paired with an influential and senior faculty member who provides access to professional and personal networks, but does not necessarily offer constant feedback on mentor’s work (grants, publications).
  • Potential downsides: outside faculty may provide advice that is inconsistent with department norms.
Mentoring Focus Areas for Pre-tenure/Junior Faculty

  • Getting to Know the Institution
  • Understanding the academic culture of departments, schools/colleges, and the institution;
  • Identifying resources to support research and teaching;
  • Creating a trusted network of junior and senior colleagues, and
  • Building a community.

  • Excelling at Teaching, Research, Service
  • Helping set career aspirations and goals; 
  • Finding technical and financial support, including seed funding resources;
  • Developing a research/writing plan;
  • Identifying external funding mechanisms and best practices to receive grants and awards;
  • Navigating the regulatory landscapes;
  • Managing personnel and students;
  • Soliciting feedback on manuscripts and grant proposals;
  • Finding support for teaching such as developing new courses, pedagogical methods, technologies, and interdisciplinary curricula;
  • Providing advice about courses of action to address a specific problem (e.g. research collaboration, teaching evaluations);
  • Helping improve skills, such as how to give talks, supervising research assistants, and managing classroom dynamics, etc;
  • Thinking through or role-playing difficult situations that need to be negotiated;
  • Identifying people at the University (or outside the university) who can be helpful to one’s career, and how to approach them;
  • Selecting which university committees to serve on, and
  • Navigating informal and formal advising demands. 

  • Understanding Tenure and Evaluation
  • Understanding the specific steps of the tenure process;
  • Learning about department-specific criteria to evaluate research, teaching and service, and
  • Understanding the relative importance of teaching, publishing, and service in the institution. 

  • Navigating Work-Life Demands
  • Prioritizing/balancing teaching, research, and service;
  • Developing time management skills;
  • Attending to quality of life issues such as dual careers, child or parent care, health, and
  • Identifying information about policies and support for work-life balance (including dependent care, elder care, wellness, community resources, etc.).

  • Developing Professional Networks
  • Connecting to senior/influential colleagues;
  • Identifying people external to the university who can be helpful to the mentee’s career, and facilitating connections with them, and
  • Advising about participation in professional organizations and conferences.
Mentoring Focus Areas for Post-Tenure Faculty

  • Understanding the post-tenure evaluation process and criteria
  • Understanding the timeline to full professor, and
  •  Learning about department and college criteria for evaluating research and teaching performance post-tenure.

  • Articulating post-tenure career goals
  • Help articulate continued scholarly distinction;
  • Set time frames: establish short term goals; align personal needs with department expectations, and
  • Obtain information about how to advance into academic leadership positions.
  •  Balancing increased service and work life demands
  • Learn how to manage increased demands for service with family needs, such as aging parents and growing children, and
  • Learn to assess how to negotiate these demands with career goals.

  • Develop career development opportunities:
  • Help to identify resources for leadership, and field-specific development opportunities.

  • Considerations for Setting the Mentoring Program:
  • Chairs should set a mentoring relationship soon after making an offer/after tenure for all junior faculty and for interested newly tenured faculty;
  • A department chair should not, if at all possible, serve as the only mentor to a junior faculty in their department;
  • When setting up the mentoring program: Consider needs of the faculty, e.g. disciplinary affinity, availability of the mentor, mentee demographics;
  • Mentors and mentees should draft a mentoring plan: establishing the scope and focus of the mentoring relationship, e.g., research, teaching, and advancement, or all of the above;
  • Team mentors should meet and clarify roles;
  • Establish a limited duration of the mentoring relationship, usually a year, so that if the relationship does not work for either mentor or mentee, there’s a graceful exit strategy; if the relationship works for both parties, it can be renewed;
  • Consider conflicts of interest, the need to protect confidentiality, and how to ensure that the mentee (and mentor) can safely raise concerns;
  • Chairs should consider how to evaluate the effectiveness of the mentorship relationships:  e.g. publications, grants, teaching evaluations;
  • Make clear the relationship between the chair and the mentor – are the conversations between the mentee/mentor confidential or is there an expectation to share information between mentor and chair;
  • Mentoring for faculty members with joint appointments should be coordinated among units, but the tenure-home unit should take the lead;
  • Faculty should be required to check in annually with a chair, regardless of their mentoring plan;
  •  Chair should provide mentoring feedback at the mentor’s annual review as part of their service to the department;
  • Mentoring can be considering as departmental service. Good mentors should be rewarded; possible rewards can include exemption from other service demand, eligibility for department/college mentoring award, and
  • Identify resources available to support mentoring. For example, university workshops and mentoring lunches offered by the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity; College of Engineering’s Diversity Programs in Engineering;Women In Science and Engineering and the College of Veterinary Medicine’s Committee on Status of Women; and professional associations. 

Considerations for Mentoring Across Difference

Women and underrepresented minority faculty face unique challenges throughout their academic careers which may affect their success, their department’s ability to retain them and their sense of belonging at the department and the institution. Among the specific issues, especially in an institution like Cornell, are:
  • Social isolation – a result of few local social/cultural networks and possible exclusion from informal social networks;
  • A heavy advising burden of underrepresented students overall and women students in STEM;
  • Large number of requests to serve on committees and panels, including those to address underrepresentation in membership;
  • Unconscious bias of students, staff, and colleagues, and expressed implicit and explicit stereotypes;
  • Devalued scholarship if they work on issues of gender/race, and
  • Dearth of mentors who have successfully navigated similar challenges.

Mentors, especially those who work with faculty that do not share the above challenges, should be aware of the issues, advocate on behalf of their junior colleagues who are disproportionately burdened by service, and seek resources to learn how to mentor effectively across difference. 

What is NOT Mentoring

  • Performance feedback from a senior colleague is not mentoring, unless it is followed up with information about strategies, resources, and an offer to review materials;
  • Collaboration isn’t mentoring. Collaborators, who are acting in a mentoring capacity, must develop clear expectations around collaboration, and
  •  Lack of choice. Relationships where the mentee cannot choose which advice to adopt and which to ignore, are not mentoring. Mentoring is an interaction between professionals. Mentees should be able to make choices without retaliation.

This document was adapted from the toolkits/guides and articles below:

Bickel, J. (2014). How men can excel as mentors of women. Academic Medicine: Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, 89(8), 1–3. 

Blau, Francine D., Currie, Janet M., Croson, Rachel T. A., and Donna K. Ginther, 2010. "Can Mentoring Help Female Assistant Professors? Interim Results from a Randomized Trial,"  American Economic Review , American Economic Association, vol. 100(2), 348-52.

Buch, Kimberly, Huet, Yvett, Rorrer, Audrey, and Lynn Roberson (2011). “Removing the Barriers to Full Professor: A Mentoring Program for Associate Professors. November/December 2011, 38-45.

Columbia University, Office of the Provost,  Guide to Best Practices in Faculty Mentoring, Columbia University, 2016.

Ibarra, H., Carter, N. M., & Silva, C. (September, 2010). Why men still get more promotions than women. Harvard Business Review, 88(9), 80–126. 

Luz, C.C. (Ed.) (2011).  Faculty Mentoring Toolkit: A resource for faculty, mentors and administrators at
Michigan State University (NSF ADVANCE Grant #0811205). East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University.

Sorcinelli, Mary. D. Yun, Jung, and Brian Baldi; (2016) Mutual Mentoring Guide.

For more information, visit the Office of Faculty Development and Diversity's website or email [email protected] or [email protected] .