Mentoring, Advising, Friendship

Inside Higher Ed today has a report from this weekend’s Compact for Faculty Diversity’s Institute on Teaching and Mentoring, asking what it means to be a mentor. Here’s a quote:

“I used to think that you didn’t have to have a close relationship with the student to be a mentor,” [Javier] Cuevas, an associate professor of molecular pharmacology and physiology at South Florida’s College of Medicine, said at the session at the Compact for Faculty Diversity’s Institute on Teaching and Mentoring here. “But I’ve come to believe that there’s a huge difference between an adviser, who may only be concerned about the student’s performance on a particular project, and someone who has truly taken on the role of mentor. To me, friendship is an essential component of being a true mentor.”

This was a major question throughout the Mentoring Institute’s conference that I attend last week. A great deal of discussion was given to the question of whether a mentor and an advisor were the same thing, whether being a “mentor” implied some sort of special relationship, and how much of a “cheerleader” a mentor should be for mentees.

Brad Johnson, for example, noted that affirmation was the singlemost important thing that a mentor could do, and that mentors served an important role in opening doors for their proteges. Lewis Schlosser raised the tension between serving as a supporter of one’s protege, while simultaneously serving as a gatekeeper for one’s profession. Izzy Justice, meanwhile, took a completely different stance on mentoring, through his company’s service of anonymous mentoring (which completely removes any possibilities of opening doors or becoming real friends). Several speakers raised the question of whether you could be assigned a mentor, or if being a mentor was something you could only determine in retrospect.

What do you see as the differences between being a mentor and being an adviser? Does mentoring require friendship?

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Micheal Hickerson

The former Associate Director for the Emerging Scholars Network, Micheal lives in Cincinnati with his wife and three children and works as a web manager for a national storage and organization company. He writes about work, vocation, and finding meaning in what you do at No Small Actors.

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