Written Communication Tools to Facilitate STEM Mentoring

Overview

Effective STEM mentoring provides trainees a support structure that serves as a foundation for their growth as scientists within the context of who they are as whole individuals. Throughout the mentor-mentee relationship, clear communication is vital to developing and maintain this support structure. Establishing and practicing clear communication requires investments by both mentors and mentees. Communication strategies may change over the course of a mentoring relationship, as mentees’ needs change. 

Formal documents can often serve as useful tools on which to scaffold clear communication and expectations. There are many types of mentor-mentee documents, and different mentors and mentees may prefer slightly different approaches. Since mentor-mentee relationships are dynamic, communication needs to be dynamic as well. Regularly assess what is working and not working in terms of communication.

Types of Documents

Mentor-Mentee Expectations Documents. These documents often provide a roadmap of what a mentee can expect from a mentor and, sometimes, in turn, what a mentor expects from their mentees. Typically, mentors develop one that is general to all trainees, then possibly tailor the document to particular career stages or to the needs to particular trainees. 

Resources

Examples

Lab Philosophies/Guidelines/Manuals. These documents are designed by the PI to provide an overview for all team members. Some sections may be specific to certain groups in the lab (e.g., undergraduate students, postdocs, etc.) but most should be relevant to the entire lab community. Lab philosophies often contain a section on the importance of inclusiveness in the laboratory, and may contain sections addressing work-life balance and mental wellness. Parts of these documents often set out mentor-mentee expectations, thus overlapping with mentor-mentee expectations documents. 

Examples

Mentoring Compacts/Contracts.  These documents are tailored to define expectations of both the mentor and mentee. They are meant to facilitate open dialogue. The word “compact” is preferred over “contract” as contract may imply a focus on the consequences of a student not meeting expectations, rather than a non-punitive, two-way commitment between mentor and mentee. Compacts should be referenced and updated regularly as a student’s training stage changes or when a student faces particular challenges that will ultimately require changing expectations.

Examples

Writing Contracts. One big challenge that scientists often face is meeting writing deadlines. Repeatedly missing writing deadlines, or pushing off writing such that there is no time for students to receive feedback on their written work, can be a huge setback for students. A writing contract between a mentor and a student sets out specific expectations about meeting writing deadlines.

Examples

Mentoring Roadmaps and Networks. Mentoring roadmaps refer to a guided process by which mentees identify their goals and sources of support for these goals. This information can be shared with a mentor in order to guide a conversation, and can also help a mentee identify when they need different mentors to do different things. 

Resources

Examples