Mentoring Junior Professors: History and Evaluation of a Nine-Year Model

By Miller, Teresa Northern; Thurston, Linda P. | The Journal of Faculty Development, May 2009 | Go to article overview

Mentoring Junior Professors: History and Evaluation of a Nine-Year Model


Miller, Teresa Northern, Thurston, Linda P., The Journal of Faculty Development


A Task Force on Mentoring at a Midwestern university spent a year designing and piloting a New Faculty Mentoring program. The program was created following a year of planning, adopted by faculty assembly, implemented, and then evaluated yearly. Yearly formative evaluations since the program began indicated benefits for both mentees and mentors and provided feedback for program improvement. A five-year summative evaluation indicated that the program had met the goals of the college administration. A comprehensive nine-year summative evaluation was then conducted, also indicating successful programming and promotion. A historical perspective, evaluation summary, and components for designing a flexible, growth-oriented mentoring program are described.

Mentoring junior professors has become important in higher education as ever-increasing retirements of senior professors become reality, as predicted by Bowen and Shuster (1986), and as noted in a national study of postsecondary faculty by Neville and Bradburn (2006). Sugar, Pruitt, Anstee and Harris (2005) suggested that higher education administrators face an urgent need to find ways to maintain a balance of junior and senior faculty to counter this trend, and that strengths of senior faculty were "their mentoring of junior faculty, their teaching experience, and their capacity to bring a national, if not international, reputation to their universities and departments" (p. 409). Effective mentoring programs must be flexible enough to address the differing needs of new professors and can only exist in an overall growth-oriented culture that values the contributions of both levels of professors - those new to the system and those who serve as mentors. Such programs can assist new professors by teaching them ways to be successful in the higher education environment, by helping them develop networks for collaboration, by getting them started in publishing, by improving their teaching and service contributions, and by increasing their success in the promotion and tenure process.

Background of Higher Education Mentoring Efforts

Overall, reports of faculty-faculty mentoring in higher education schools, colleges, and departments do exist, but not in high numbers, despite a pressing need for such programs. One such study by Sands, Parson and Duane (1991) concluded that mentoring is not simple, but is instead a complex, multidimensional activity. Mentoring relationships in their study were usually mutually negotiated, with formal assignments rarely mentioned. These researchers described four important factors of the mentoring relationship:

1. Friendship (emotional support, advice, etc.);

2. Collaboration in research or publications, career development, etc.;

3. Information about policies and procedures, promotion and tenure hints;

4. Intellectual guidance, manuscript collaboration and constructive criticism.

In this study, as in many others, the relationships were voluntary and mutually agreed upon. Further, these researchers concluded that it was important for mentees to know what type of mentor they needed and for mentors to acknowledge what kind of help they were willing to provide, in order to create this mutually agreeable mentoring relationship.

Goodwin, Stevens and Bellamy (1998) completed a study on mentoring beliefs. The mentoring efforts in this study focused on research and scholarship, teaching, and professional socialization of junior professors. Values expressed in their interviews were listed as mutual respect, caring, accessibility of the mentor, compatibility, and support. Voluntary and informal mentoring were mentioned as more valued than involuntary or formal mentoring. Junior professors also valued help in establishing partnerships with outside agencies and institutions.

In the field of science and in order to increase the needed support for young chemistry professors, Doyle and Schwab began a mentoring series in 2005 for graduate students, post docs, and junior faculty in academic chemistry.

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