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.
Some Important Considerations
- Regularly assess what is working and not working in terms of communication. Since mentor-mentee relationships are dynamic, communication needs to be dynamic as well.
- Only say it if you mean it. In creating a general document or a compact with an individual mentee, it is important that you are truly committed to what you include.
- Get feedback from your research team. What do they think? What else do they wish was included in the lab guide?
- Be intentional and reflect. Set aside some time to look at the documents you have created for your lab. Update them and define them as you and your lab change. You are busy. This won’t happen unless you block off your calendar to do it.
- Look at examples. While you should reflect on your goals, expectations and abilities as a mentor and lab leader, you can benefit tremendously from looking at examples. Some elements will resonate with you. Others will make you cringe. Take the best and adapt it for yourself.
- Incorporate the documents into ongoing conversations. Documents such as mentor-mentee expectations document, lab guides and mentor-mentee compacts can be central to effective onboarding of a new mentee. However, by returning to them regularly and intentionally, you can reinforce the essentials and update expectations over the course of dynamics relationships. This can be hard, as we often get caught up in the research goals and plans and, though well-intentioned, don’t find time to reflect on broader goals and expectations.
Types of Documents
Expectations for Prospective Graduate Students. It can be helpful, on your website or in something that you send to prospective graduate students who contact you, to outline your expectations and general mentoring philosophy.
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.
- Ten simple rules for developing a mentor–mentee expectations document. This helpful guide also includes an example in the supplement.
- Examples from the supplement of Ten simple rules for developing a mentor-mentee expectations document.
- Example Expectations Document, lab of Stephanie Roberts, University of Washington
- Mentoring Compact for Undergraduates, lab of Devin Drown, University of Alaska
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.
- Lab Guidelines, Lab of Meghan Duffy, University of Michigan.
- Lab Compact, Lab of Nicole Gerardo, Emory University.
- Lab Manual, Lab of Mircea Dinca, MIT
- Lab Guide of Russell Poldrack, Stanford University
PI’s sometimes imbed diversity, equity & inclusion statements within a lab guide and other times have a standalone document. These standalone documents are often living documents that the lab members regularly reflect on and update.
- DEI statement of the lab of Ashley Shade, Michigan State
- DEI statement of the lab of Paul Turner, Yale
- DEI statement of the lab of Peter Raimondi and Mark Carr, UCSC
- DEI statement of lab of Rob Unckless, University of Kansas
Mentoring Compacts/Contracts/Agreements. These documents are tailored to define expectations of both the mentor and mentee. They are meant to facilitate open dialogue and often center on developing expectations and goals through a discussion. 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 mentee’s training stage changes or when a mentee faces particular challenges that will ultimately require changing expectations.
- The Michigan State Graduate School provides a mentoring implementation toolkit page, that includes examples of mentor-mentee compacts, as well as other resources.
- The Compact between Biomedical Graduate Students and Their Research Advisors
- Mentoring compacts from Entering Research. Mentoring compacts are part of the Entering Research curriculum as part of the “Aligning Mentor & Trainee Expectations” activities, listed under the “Develop effective interpersonal communication skills.” (The materials can be accessed for free once a profile is created on the CIMER website.)
- The University of Wisconsin Institute for Clinical and Translational Research has a set of mentoring resources including a checklist of suggestions for what to cover in a mentoring compact. They also have ready-made examples for compacts between individuals, for teams, or for developing compacts based on key questions.
- Compact for Rotating Graduate Students, Lab of Nicole Gerardo, Emory University.
- Wartburg College provides a roadmap to Establishing Mentoring Expectations that starts with a useful background on expectations and leads into questions to be answered through conversation between mentor and mentee.
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.
- Writing Contract, Lab of Nicole Gerardo, Emory University.
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.
- Montgomery, B.L.. 2017. Mapping a mentoring roadmap and developing a supportive network for strategic career advancement. SAGE Open.
- Mentoring Network Map, Lehigh University.
- NCFFD Network Map
- The most commonly used mentoring roadmap comes from the Mentoring Up program. The materials can be accessed for free once a profile is created on the CIMER (Center for Improved Mentoring Experiences in Research) website.