Any new job can be stressful. Years of education and subject matter expertise isn’t always enough to make a new employee feel confident about entering a workplace with unknown expectations and culture. This is as true for new faculty as anyone else.
In fact, many first time faculty members must learn to balance research, departmental culture, and their role as teachers to dozens if not hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students.
Fortunately, research has shown that the right faculty mentorship program can pave the way to success for new faculty, experienced faculty, and for the institutions where they work.
Implementing a strong mentorship program showcases an institution’s commitment to quality teaching, employee engagement and innovation.
And it starts with recognizing the benefits a faculty mentoring program brings to both mentors and mentees:
The first few months on the job can be quite stressful. Having an experienced faculty member beside you to answer questions and consistently let you know that “you’ve got this” can help tremendously. New faculty are experts in their subject area but often have limited teaching experience and pedagogical training (Dosa et al., 2020). This leads many first time faculty to experience an imposter syndrome, believing they are not as competent and ready as they originally thought. Faculty mentoring programs push doubt to the curb, providing mentees with an experienced “friend” ready to shower them with continuous encouragement and support. This boost in confidence is critical in the early days of a faculty member’s career.
Not surprisingly, mentors also experience an increase in self-confidence as a result of their participation in faculty mentorship programs. For example, they report feelings of pride that they can effectively assist their mentees (Bean et al., 2014).
2. Career Satisfaction
In a study conducted by Bean et al. (2014), almost all participants in a faculty mentorship program reported that discussions about short- and long-term career goals were some of the most valuable interactions they had with their mentors, even helping them prioritize career requirements and commitments.
Mentors can also be indispensable in helping new faculty navigate the intricacies of academic life, including balancing their personal and professional responsibilities.
Understandably, faculty in a new position could feel overwhelmed and stressed. But this work-life balance and focus on short- and long-term goals can contribute to a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction in their careers.
3. Network Expansion
Being a professor can be quite a lonely experience (Hundey et al., 2020). This is especially the case for part-timers. While the engagement with students is exhilarating, less frequent are interactions with peers.
The right faculty mentorship program prioritizes peer-to-peer connection and network expansion.
Dosa et al. (2020) explain how the Center for Teaching and Learning at Budapest Business School provides a rich mentoring program that includes time for mentees to engage with one another and connect with staff outside of their immediate disciplines.
4. Exposure to New Ideas
A strong mentoring relationship provides both mentors and mentees with the opportunity to learn from each other. Mentors provide new faculty members with needed information about pedagogy, the academic community, grant writing, and departmental culture. On the flip side, mentors reported that having a mentee forced them to reflect on their experiences and encouraged them to be more collaborative in nature (Bean et al., 2014).
The right faculty mentorship program engages the mentee in numerous opportunities to reflect on his or her impact in a non evaluative setting.
This is important for instruction, specifically, because reflection allows teachers to better understand their strengths and weaknesses in pedagogical roles (Dosa et al., 2020).
Mentors provide safe, judgment free sounding boards who encourage growth through reflection and who guide their mentees toward strong teaching practices.
6. Student and Faculty Success
When faculty develop their pedagogical skills, students see a benefit.
For example, as teachers learn to reflect on their practice, they also become more adept at asking students to effectively reflect on their learning (Dosa et al. 2020).
And with the collaborative and often innovative nature of the mentoring relationship, new and experienced faculty gain insights, techniques, and knowledge that can help them more effectively meet their goals.
Mentoring also helps with career progression. In a study of an existing faculty mentorship program at West Chester University conducted by Bean et al. (2014), every new faculty member who participated as a mentee was granted tenure.
7. Growth Mindset
Dr. Carol Dweck, cognitive psychologist and leading expert on “mindset,” describes growth mindset as “the understanding that we can develop our abilities and intelligence.” Those embracing a growth mindset see obstacles and challenges as opportunities to improve and learn.
Faculty mentoring programs incubate a growth mindset. Here’s how.
According to Dosa et al. (2020), faculty who feel welcomed into the teaching community through mentorship programs are more likely to continue to pursue professional development opportunities. Having seen the value of learning right from the beginning, they search for more opportunities throughout their careers.
And mentors reported that they developed leadership, management, and coaching skills, which had institutional benefits as they were more capable of taking on new roles and sharing their knowledge with others (Hundey et al., 2020).
8. New Skills
Whether new or experienced, participants in strong mentorship programs have reported that adding to their skill set is one of the most rewarding benefits. Mentees have detailed improvements in the areas of time management, research/scholarship, and commitment to the profession (Bean et al., 2014).
And mentors have revealed that serving as role models, advocates, and guides has improved their time management, collaboration, communications, and listening skills.
9. Retention Rates
Study after study demonstrates that students’ experiences with faculty in the classroom are one of the most important factors in student outcomes ranging from persistence, graduation, sense of belonging, and academic self-efficacy to other important psychosocial outcomes associated with learning and graduation. In short, faculty members are the key to solving the retention challenge. School culture plays a critical role in creating the collaborative environment required to support student success. Investment in creating the right faculty mentorship program is an investment in student retention.
10. Mental Health
Faculty mentoring programs provide mentees the opportunity to explore new ideas and grow without fear of judgement, as well as receive reassurance from someone they admire. These factors naturally work to increase their confidence in themselves, and so can really help to tackle mental health issues such as depression.
Altogether, each of these benefits combines to deliver a substantial return. For every school, your employees are your greatest renewable resource. An investment in creating the right faculty mentorship program is an investment in the future of your employees, your institution and most importantly your students.