Mentoring in the Sciences

A Brief Overview of Mentorship

Mentoring is an integral part of careers in the sciences. According to the National Academies of Sciences, mentorship is “a professional, working alliance in which individuals work together over time to support the personal and professional growth, development, and success of the relational partners through the provision of career and psychosocial support.”

Mentorship is based on the belief that one person, or a group of persons, can create a positive difference in the lives of others. In scientific environments, mentorship often takes the form of faculty mentoring graduate or post-doctoral trainees, established faculty mentoring early career faculty, or post-doctoral trainees mentoring graduate trainees.

Mentoring relationships can be formally developed through programs and networks, or informal discussion between those seeking new skills or career development and those willing to provide training or helpful viewpoints, advice, and/or networking to support that growth.

What is a Mentor?

A mentor is a trusted advisor or guide. A mentor can lead, inspire and motivate their mentee by expanding the mentee’s awareness, insight, and perspective. Often, a mentor is someone more experienced in a particular career, within an organization or institute, and/or with a given skillset who is willing to work with a mentee on their career needs. This is typically done without any specific gain for the mentor aside from the desire to, and satisfaction from, offering help and support.

Types of Mentoring Relationships

Mentoring relationships can occur in formal, structured, and intentional settings or as informal, organically developed relationships that mentees develop with more experienced individuals with whom they have regular contact (Inzer and Crawford, 2005). Mentoring relationships can include:

  • A single mentor working with a single mentee in a classic dyadic relationship
  • A group of mentors sharing their collective wisdom with one mentee
  • One mentor working with multiple mentees
  • Peer and near-peer mentoring structures
  • Online peer communities
  • Programmatic mentoring
  • Mentoring experiences delivered through carefully constructed short-term seminars, workshops, or presentations.
Examples of Mentorship Structures Graphic showing the different mentorship structures: Dyad, Triad, Collective or Group, and Network. Dyad shows a one mentor and one mentee connection. Triad shows two mentors and one mentee connection, also one mentor and two mentees connection. Collective or Group shows a mentor to mentor connection with a multiple mentee connection that attaches to the mentors. Network shows the mentee connected to multiple mentors, mentor nodes, and resource nodes.
* Material in this section and figure adapted from: The Science of Effective Mentorship in STEMM