Exciting Mentoring News at UofL!
Dr. Aruni Bhatnagar of the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology was named the recipient of the 2014 CSGS Outstanding Mentor Award. This is not the first mentoring award Dr. Bhatnagar has been awarded--he was also named SIGS' 2009 Outstanding Faculty Mentor, and subsequently serves on the SIGS Mentor Advisory Board.
Over the course of his research Dr. Bhatnagar has had the pleasure of working with and mentoring over 30 junior faculty, post-doctoral fellows and graduate students. Part of his role as the current Director of the NCRR-funded Diabetes and Obesity Center is to mentor junior faculty and help train them to become independent investigators and to oversee the training of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows.
What is Mentoring?
Despite what the Thinker seems to suggest, knowledge production and scholarship do not occur in isolation. Scholars are always in conversation with others in their field, and with those who have come before. Mentorship, as the hallmark of the graduate education experience, underscores this connectivity, this conversation.
Mentorship is a broad term that encompasses relationships within and across disciplines in which a "novice" or "apprentice" (the mentee) gains knowledge, insights, guidance and other benefits through their interactions with a more senior colleague. This includes both faculty mentoring and peer mentoring, in which students mentor other students, typically from a slightly senior position in their program or professional development.
But mentorship is not only a uni-directional transfer of knowledge and expertise from mentor to mentee. Instead, it often entails rich intellectual exchanges, often benefiting the mentor and his/her work as well as the mentee. Ideally, mentoring pairs can collaborate on research, present together at conferences, and even co-author publications. Mentees always come to a program and mentoring situation with knowledge and experience of their own, and have much to offer in the mentorship relationship. This may be particularly true of peer mentoring, in which students share common professional goals but may have different areas of interest that complement one another in a co-mentoring relationship.
While mentorship often entails advising students in their programs or research, a mentor is more than an adviser. We tend to consider advisers as those people in your programs assigned the task of keeping students on track with program benchmarks and expectations, whereas a mentor is someone who, in one way or another, aids the student in entering the larger context of their academic or professional field beyond their particular graduate program.
In some fields, such as many science and engineering fields, students often call the research director in their lab their mentor. In the humanities, students often identify their thesis or dissertation advisers as mentors. While it is always ideal that a student's faculty research supervisor is a strong and supportive mentor for that student, it is also important to remember that these individuals do not have to be (perhaps even should not be) a student's only mentor. Successful students meet different personal and professional needs with different mentors, developing a network of mentoring relationships that will support them in their programs and their careers beyond.
Mentorship is central to the graduate education experience, and research has repeatedly shown that positive mentoring relationships are a key factor in graduate students' academic and professional success. But of course not all mentoring relationships are positive experiences for the mentor or mentee, especially when mentoring pairs are assigned without reference to personality, interests, or individual preference.
University of Louisville's School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies is making a push to promote and support productive and mutually-rewarding mentoring relationships at the University. Part of this effort is in promoting and supporting the development of peer mentoring programs within departments. Peer mentors provide unique insights for mentees because of their shared experience as students in the department, their reduced power differential (in comparison to faculty mentors), and their professional status as students, which means that both mentor and mentee are in a position to benefit from collaborative work.
Another area of focus in fostering a "culture of mentorship" at the University is sharing best-practices of effective mentoring. While it seems that some people are "natural" mentors from the start, others may not be sure what mentoring actually can and should entail. Setting expectations of both mentors and mentees and sharing strategies and insights for building and maintaining positive mentorship relationships can enhance the quality of mentoring across the University. We intend for this website to be the hub of this conversation about effective peer and faculty mentoring, with resources for both students and faculty, individuals and programs. Through the MentorConnect page, we will also actively facilitate the exchange of mentoring questions and insights by connecting students and faculty with our Mentor Advisory Board members.
SIGS Outstanding Faculty Mentor Recipients
The School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies confers an award for outstanding graduate mentors each May, based on the nominations of graduate program directors and/or graduate student mentees. We would like to recognize the recipients of this award, several of whom are now members of our Mentor Advisory Board as well.
To nominate an outstanding faculty mentor in your department, see the Faculty Mentor Awards form.
Past MentorCenter Themes
2012-2013 Year of the Mentor
The School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies hosted a Mentoring Kick-Off in Spring 2012 that was dedicated to promoting critical reflection about graduate mentorship practices and developing strategies for building a "culture of mentorship" across the departments. Following up on the enthusiasm of attendees at that event, and building on the ideas generated there, SIGS denoted 2012-2013 as the Year of the Mentor. Some of the highlights of that year included:
2013-2014 Year of the Career
In response to increased recent attention to the challenges and changes of the academic job market, SIGS designated 2013-2014 as the Year of the Career. A particular emphasis in this focus on careers has been an exploration of alt-ac and non-academic career prospects for graduate students, with an attendant conversation about the role of graduate programs in preparing students for a diversity of career outcomes both on and off the tenure track. Some of the highlights of that year included: