What are the stages of developing a mentoring relationship? 

Developing a mentoring relationship takes trust and communication. Mentee and mentor must commit the time to learning to get to know each other in a respectful manner in a safe space.  Below are some general guidelines that may help you to know what to expect as you begin to look for or work with a mentor. 

Stage One: Reflection 

Take time to contemplate your intention(s) for a mentoring relationship. What do you need and want at this point in your graduate career and life? A first-year student needs different guidance than a doctoral candidate. What type of characteristics are you looking for in a mentor or a mentee? A non-tenured faculty member has different guidance to offer than a tenured faculty or staff member. Do you want to work with someone within or outside your discipline? Who in your life would be a good mentor to you and why? 

Once you have answered the questions above (and others) take the next step and contact potential mentors. Clearly communicate your reasons for wanting to establish a mentoring relationship with this person and ask if she or he would be interested and able to meet with you to discuss the matter more. 

Stage Two: Initiation 

Once mentee and mentor decide to work together, a series of processes take place: introductions, establishing goals and accountability measures, setting and understanding boundaries, and determining accountability strategies. During this stage both mentee and mentor are working to learn about each other, what will be needed to work together, and the best ways to do thisYou are also working to develop trust between each other. Trust develops from being able to honestly articulate what is needed and being able to share this information without judgment or feeling as if one is being judged. Without this, the other stages of the mentoring relationship will not be successful.

Stage Three: Cultivation 

The initiation stage may vary in length for each relationship. After you have established the parameters of the relationship, and the ways in which mentoring will occur, a much harder stage begins: that of cultivating, growing, and maintaining the relationship.  

To do this, mentee and mentor must continuously commit to and work towards meeting the intentions and goals established during stage two. However, each must also be willing to acknowledge personal and professional growth. Intentions and goals, therefore, must be revisited regularly to ensure that mentee and mentor are aligned. This stage may deepen your relationship or highlight the fissures of the relationship. If you have maintained strong communication – all with the intent of assisting the mentee – moving forward will be supported through the intentions of meeting the needs of the mentee, recognizing growth, and committing to change that will lead to the mentee’s success.

Stage Four: Separation 

There will be a point in your relationship where it may be necessary to separate from each other. This may be for multiple reasons: change in interests; graduation; life changes; mentee and mentor have grown apart; or perhaps the relationship was not successful. Whatever the reason, how you transition from the relationship is as important as how you initiated it. Clear communication about why the separation is needed will assist mentee and mentor in being able to acknowledge the growth or failure that has occurred and define the reasons why separation at this time would benefit both. Separation could be as simple as it is time for the mentee to graduate or to begin his/her own professional career. Or, it could be as complicated as an unsuccessful mentoring relationship.

Stage Five: Redefinition 

Eventually, the mentee will become a mentor or transition to her or his own career. This is a delicate time that requires the mentor to acknowledge that the mentee may now be a colleague or collaborator. It is also a time when the mentee must acknowledge her or his success and become more confident about her or his research. This stage is very exciting: both former mentee and mentor can choose to continue the relationship or end it. If the former, the relationship may still need to be negotiated to incorporate the mentee’s new status as professional. If the latter, how does one negotiate the mentee’s new status as colleague who no longer needs this particular mentoring relationship? 

In the end, mentoring is a relationship that develops similar to our other relationships but for a very specific purpose: guiding and training a mentee (in case a student) to be a successful in her/his chosen discipline or fieldA strong mentoring relationship is one that prepares the mentee to research, publish, collaborate, and mentor others. Mentoring requires patience and understanding, honesty and commitment. Ursula Le Guinn, the incredible science fiction author wrote that “people change and forget to tell each other” – that is we don’t communicate our needs and wants to each other. The mentoring relationship is one in which this must be done by both parties if success for the mentee is to occur.  

Remember: Good Mentoring Changes lives. What’s in your mentoring toolbox?