What different forms can mentoring take?
The apprenticeship model--whereby a faculty member works one-on-one and over an extended period of time with a graduate student--has of course been the hallmark of doctoral education in the US. Though the traditional dyadic model will undoubtedly remain important, if not central, to many students' graduate training, recent research on mentoring in academe has recognized other valuable forms mentoring can take. Further, recent research on the changing face of academia in the 21st century encourages us to reconsider the ways we are preparing graduate students for their futures within and outside of the university, including a reconsideration of mentoring models.
While we do not suggest that faculty abandon the traditional mentoring model that has worked so well for many students, students can also benefit from a diversity of mentoring relationships that meet their different needs. The most obvious example might be the distinction between a research mentor and a teaching mentor that many students describe, and that many departments encourage. We would like to further encourage faculty and students to recognize opportunities for mentorship that are:
Formal or Informal- While the lab or dissertation director may be the formal mentor for many students, graduate students can develop informal mentoring relationships with faculty and staff within and beyond their departments, which meet a variety of personal and professional needs the student may have.
Dyadic or Multiple- Multiple mentoring might take the form of multiple dyadic relationships, or can be thought of more in terms of a shared responsibility for graduate student success such as the dissertation committee often represents. Though the traditional emphasis in academia has been on the primary research mentor's role in student development and success, many graduate students (particularly in the humanities) will often identify more than one faculty member or advanced professional as influential to their progress; recognizing these other individuals as mentors is important to students' sense of support, and cultivating these multiple relationships is increasingly seen as an important aspect of preparing graduate students for the complex scholarly endeavors they will undertake both within and outside the university upon graduation.
Networked- Drawing on the affordances of new technologies for information exchange, networked mentoring can be a valuable way to connect with national and international scholars in one's field and beyond. As students develop a sense of their discipline beyond the walls of their graduate institutions, networked mentoring can be a way to continue relationships forged at professional conferences, or to create new relationships around shared research interests. For small graduate programs, or programs in which a given demographic is underrepresented, online networked mentoring may be a particularly valuable way to support student development and professionalization.
Faculty or Peer- Though mentoring most often occurs between a more experienced and a more novice practitioner, mentorship does not always involve the significant differential in experience represented by faculty-student relationships. Peer mentoring can offer students an outlet for asking questions they may deem too "silly" or otherwise embarrassing to ask an established professor in their field, and peer mentors have the benefit of speaking from and to an experience often similar to that of the mentee. A slightly more advanced student can share first-hand knowledge of program requirements and experiences that newer students will soon encounter, and can speak to the student experience in ways faculty cannot. Even peers from the same cohort, coming as they do from different backgrounds and having different levels of experience, can support one another and share their experiences through co-mentorship. Of course, the affordances of faculty mentoring are not replaced by peer mentoring, just as the kinds of relationships that peer mentoring affords are not available through faculty mentoring.
The "types" of mentoring described above can be combined in any number of ways. While it is important for students to recognize the various opportunities represented by these combinations, it is also important for faculty and departments to recognize and support the multiple forms mentoring can take. The series of workshops and discussions sponsored by SIGS in the 2012-13 "Year of the Mentor" is largely focused around considering the affordances and limitations of these multiple models of mentoring for supporting the formation of scholars for the 21st century.