Mentoring is a form of one-to-one support where a more experienced colleague uses their knowledge, skills and sometimes their connections to help someone with their current and future challenges. Mentoring has been shown to have a positive effect on individuals’ career success. It can also enhance organisational effectiveness by building better communications and understanding among staff. Mentoring is a two-way conversation. By giving their time, mentors can also develop their own skills and perspectives. It can provide an opportunity for self-reflection as well as personal satisfaction from helping others on their career path.
A mentor is often described as a 'critical friend' or 'supportive challenger' because they have a role in helping people become more self-aware and to take responsibility for solving their own problems. Mentors are distinct from most coaches in that they have often walked the same path before in some way, and can use their own experience to support the mentee. They may be able to help with general professional and career advice, or may have particular expertise that is relevant to the mentee’s immediate situation.
The key characteristic of a good mentor is being prepared to listen carefully and pay attention to what the mentee needs, to help the mentee work through their options and decide a course of action. Mentors are not there to fix or counsel their mentees or to solve problems on their behalf − the outcomes of the process are the responsibility of the mentee.
Mentoring at the University
There are various routes to getting mentor support, with varying levels of structure and formality:
- as part of academic probation
- informally − you can do this by approaching potential mentors directly or through an intermediary
- mentoring in academic departments, such as the Education and Research job family, with the help of departmental mentoring co-ordinators
- as part of development programmes that feature mentoring (such as Aurora and Elevate)
Finding a mentor informally
We don't currently have a formal process for allocating mentors, but many colleagues benefit from having or being a mentor where the match has been made informally.
If you would like to find a mentor:
- Think about what you would like to get out of the relationship and what kind of person would be a suitable mentor.
- Talk to your line manager. They are often able to connect you with people outside your own department who are in a good position to suggest possible mentors.
- Contact potential mentors and ask if they would be willing to consider mentoring you. If you don’t feel confident to do this, you could ask your line manager or a senior colleague to act as an intermediary. Most people are very happy to act as mentors, and by far the main reason for declining is a lack of time, rather than anything against the potential mentee.
- Arrange an initial conversation to discuss whether to go ahead and on what basis. The resources will help you with this. Always be prepared to say if it's not working for you and agree to end the arrangement with no fault on either side.
It’s a good idea to be prepared with some key information before you start:
- what you are hoping to gain from the arrangement (this could be considering career options or getting advice on how to tackle a difficult situation or challenging project)
- how much time do you hope to spend in the arrangement and how often you would like to meet
You can discuss these questions in more detail later but it’s helpful if the potential mentor knows if you expect weekly meetings for two months or a meeting every six weeks for a year (for example), because time commitment is the most common reservation about being a mentor.
For guidelines and more information on the mentoring process, please visit our mentoring information page.
Please also visit our mentoring playlist for more support and information.