Students in lab

The Mentoring Match



Content and process expertise is only one part of mentoring. The style of mentoring has to match if the partnership is to be fruitful. Style-matching has been important for me as a mentor and as a mentee. When I started my doctoral research, I had a topic that I was passionate about. It was all I could think about and all I could talk about. I am an extrovert, and though I hadn’t realized it at the time, I now know that I need to talk through my ideas, challenges and thoughts. I need to be challenged via dialogue. When looking for an advisor, I interviewed various faculty members in my department, starting with the obvious choices. They were brilliant, likable, had an incredible work ethic and were leaders in their field. They were also completely wrong for me. One kept giving me articles and books to read, another kept telling me what was wrong with every idea I had, another focused on minutia. I could do the work under their tutelage, but my excitement would quickly wane.

A friend saw me one day looking frustrated and recommended that I speak with his doctoral advisor. After a one-hour phone conversation, I knew I had found the right mentor. She loved to talk as much as I did! Via dialogue, my mentor challenged me and made me critically think in ways I never had before. She raised the bar so high I often wondered if I could reach it. Knowing that she supported me, made all the difference. I pushed myself harder than I ever did before, hoping to impress her as well as myself. To be an effective mentor, consider how you learn best. Do you prefer to work in isolation or groups? Do you prefer to read through a problem or talk it out? Recognizing that need within yourself will help you adjust to your mentee.