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I see JeffE mentioned the existence of a faculty mentor in his comment on this question, so I am wondering if there is usually a faculty mentor for every junior professor (e.g., newly hired untenured profs). If yes, what are their roles?

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    In my institution: formally never, practically in some cases. However, unofficially I would assume most entry-level profs have some go-to experienced prof that they ask for advice here and there. – xLeitix Jul 30 '14 at 5:51
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It's rapidly becoming the norm at least at larger research universities (R1s) for all junior faculty to have assigned mentors from the senior faculty. At smaller institutions, they may not be assigned and so junior people have to find a mentor themselves from within the college, go externally, use their thesis adviser as a continuing mentor, or choose not to get mentored altogether.

I'm currently serving as a senior faculty mentor to a junior colleague (I was assigned this person by my Chair) and am an informal mentor to two others. As I see it, my roles are to:

  • Show an active interest in my colleague's work. Read their published and unpublished work. Go to their internal talks and try to go to their annual conference talks. Provide feedback.
  • Serve as a soundingboard for my colleague -- which journal should they publish in, should they change the structure of their article, what should their publishing schedule be. Suggest, but don't direct.
  • Serve as an advocate for my colleague at senior faculty meetings and to the university at promotion and tenure time
  • Take the colleague out for lunch from time to time.

In general, try to be a decent human being to them. Especially at the larger R1s, decent human beings are rare so this takes quite an effort. :-)

Note that I've seen a lot of bad mentoring by senior faculty. I'm not sure if they do this because of spite or because they are Evil People®. In my mind, bad mentoring is worse than no mentoring, so I'm not sure if mandatory mentoring programs such as at my institution are a good idea.

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    It's rapidly becoming the norm at least at larger research universities — [citation needed] I'd love for this to be true, but my impression is that faculty mentors are still relatively rare. – JeffE Jul 30 '14 at 22:11
  • I see it at the R1s where I work and circulate. I can hedge that statement more if you like. In any case, most provosts are trying to create the facade that faculty mentoring is occurring although as I note in my last paragraph, quality is very uneven. – RoboKaren Jul 31 '14 at 0:38
  • From what I've heard, a statement like "It's … becoming the norm … for all junior faculty to have assigned mentors", has already been hedged enough to be true. Whether the assignment necessarily translates into any meaning mentoring is another question. – Mark Meckes Jul 31 '14 at 8:03
  • I see it in some departments at my R1, but not enough to call it a "norm". – JeffE Jul 31 '14 at 13:06
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This will be a slightly different persepctive from RoboKaren's. I work in a small American liberal arts college in a small department. We have five tenure lines split between math and CS. My college does assign mentors to new faculty who are given funds to take the mentee out to lunch a couple of times. What is different from an R1 setting is that the mentors are specifically and intentionally from very different departments. These assignments come from the Faculty Development Office. Mine is from history.

A few thoughts about what advantages having a mentor from an outside department may have:

  • An outside mentor helps navigate the politics of a small department by knowing everyone involved but not being part of the situation.

  • A lot of what the mentor gives is insight into navigating the college's structures and politics that are independent of departmental affiliation. For example, the relative workload of the various college-wide committees.

  • It helps get you outside of your own department to meet people from across the college. In a small town in a small college this social role is more important than you might imagine.

What this model does not accomplish is any sort of discipline specific mentoring on research or teaching. Those matters are left to informally acquired mentors and friends. This system may not be the Platonic ideal of mentoring but it does accomplish some good without too much bad.

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