One way shown to enhance research integrity and reduce misconduct is active mentoring. This page provides some information on mentoring. The more mentors are involved in the research process the less chance of problems arising. Good mentoring reduces scientific misconduct.

Mentoring is a unique relationship between two people; it is an individualized relationship that develops over time between a ‘student’ (mentee) and a faculty member (mentor); successful mentoring is rewarding for both the student and the mentor. The role of a mentor is multi-dimensional. A mentor may function as advisor, supervisor, collaborator, tutor, sponsor, role model, friend and advocate; however, they cannot be all things to all students. Mentors should assist students with cultivating multiple mentors both inside and outside the institution; one of whom may be the student’s advisor. Mentors will change as a students career path evolves.

For research to be productive it must be carried out in a professional manner. Both mentors and trainees must be aware of their responsibilities to each another. Mentors should treat trainees with respect and clearly articulate their expectations. Correspondingly, trainees have academic and ethical obligations to their mentors. One way of laying out expectations is through an Individual Development Plan.

Although advisors can also be mentors, there are important differences between the two roles:

  • The mentoring process is more complex and less tangible than advising
  • Advising is a structured role in graduate education, whereas mentoring is less institutionalized
  • Unlike the role of advisor which is often mandated or assigned, mentoring is inherently voluntary

In some cases the student’s mentor and advisor may be different, or the student may have a formal advisor that never develops into a true mentoring relationship.

Mentors assist and support students through their graduate careers and beyond. Activities in which mentors engage to provide support include:

  • Demonstrating and teaching research methodology
  • Evaluating and critiquing the student’s research
  • Fostering the socialization of the student
    • Socialization refers to various activities that facilitate the student’s entry into the profession, ranging from normative standards of authorship and data sharing (publications and presentations) to professional contacts and career advice
  • Promoting the student’s career development

When selecting a mentor, it is important for students to know what they expect of such a person. In the process of selecting a mentor, students should consider several approaches.

  • Make an appointment to meet with a prospective mentor. Come with questions you have about the process, as well as the subject matter for potential research or scholarly associations. Afterwards note how well your questions were answered and how you felt during this meeting.
  • Talk with others who are mentored by this person and ask for specific information. How do they feel about this person and the mentoring they are receiving? Do they meet regularly with the mentor? Do they have a say in the direction the research? Does the mentor encourage their participation in professional (regional, national or international) conferences or meetings?
  • Get information about what former students with that mentor are doing now. This information may be available in department offices or ask the prospective mentor directly. How does the information you gather fit your own professional plans? Your mentor can play an important role in facilitating your post-graduate activities, be it a position, professional school, or additional education.

Ultimately the student needs to make their own decision about a mentor after gathering as much information as feasible. Students need to determine whether this is the person by whom they want to be professionally trained, supervised, advised, and potentially supported—that is, is this the person to be their mentor.

Rather than trying to find one perfect mentor, students should try to find multiple mentors, each of whom can provide something different to meet the students’ needs. By carefully selecting multiple mentors, students increase the likelihood that they will receive the assistance and support that they need and desire. Students need to look for different attributes in a mentor depending upon factors such as their discipline, area of study and/or research, and personal preferences.

While there is no single formula for successful mentoring, common elements include:

  • Extension of the mentor’s role beyond formal schooling
  • Changes in the mentor’s role with a student over time
  • A personal as well as a professional relationship

For a mentoring relationship to be successful for both mentor and student, it needs to involve certain elements including:

  • Honesty as the core value from both mentor and student
  • Mutual respect, trust, and compassion
  • Sharing and listening; there will be times of disagreement that need to be dealt with
  • Balance between training and independence of student
  • Promotion of student’s inquiry by mentor
  • Encouraging the broadening of field-specific learning with acquisition of other skills such as teaching

In conjunction with the rewards, mentoring poses a variety of challenges to the mentor. Students should be aware of these challenges and realize that one mentor may struggle with some aspects of the mentoring relationship. Over time, a good mentor should be able to overcome these challenges. Examples of challenges include:

  • Serving as a mentor with little training for the role (this is true particularly of new faculty)
  • Providing support to students of different gender or cultural background
  • Providing support to students with physical or other challenges
  • Being aware of important issues in students’ lives without prying
  • Taking care to avoid favoring one’s own students
  • Balancing oversight and independence so as not to over-direct students
  • Helping students to question the mentor, perhaps by showing that the mentor has made mistakes in his/her professional role
  • Assisting students to develop their own professional interests distinct from the mentor’s
  • Fostering growth and independence in students while moving from a mentoring to a collegial relationship

Mentors must act responsibly and conduct research in a competent manner, this will impart valuable lessons to future professionals. Mentors should clearly articulate expectations and foster an environment where communication is encouraged. As appropriate, mentors might develop, with their trainees, a timetable for completing specific objectives. Written progress reports can help ensure ongoing communication between a mentor and a trainee.

Mentors should ensure that research is conducted in a collegial environment. This, in part, can be accomplished by managing and diffusing conflicts in a timely manner. Mentors should counsel trainees about how to work with collaborators and to treat them in a respectful manner. For example, a mentor can impart a valuable lesson by avoiding the use of personal attacks when talking about a graduate student with another trainee.

Within research environments, trainees also have responsibilities. One of the key responsibilities is to conduct research honestly and diligently. The behavior of trainees while they conduct research reflects on their collaborators, their institution, and on the field within which they are working. For example, trainees should avoid interfering with the progress of others and should not use the resources of their institution wastefully.

Outcomes of mentoring are not guaranteed. Even with the best planning, not all mentoring relationships are successful. Students need to remember there is a possibility that, for whatever reason, the mentoring relationship may not work [one reason for having more than one mentor]. If this happens, students should seek another mentor. Do this before the relationship with your current mentor becomes toxic. Even if a person does not work out as a mentor, they may still be able to help you in other ways; do not burn bridges. Although mentoring is mutually beneficial, a students’ needs take precedence; students may not necessarily always follow the advice given which may be the reason for a breakdown in a student-mentor relationship.

It is also important to note that a mentoring relationship presents a risk of unethical behavior by the mentor. Mentors have certain ethical obligations including, but not limited to:

  • Avoiding abuse of the power afforded mentors through students’ dependence on them for educational, financial, and emotional support.
  • Preventing the mentoring relationship from becoming manipulative, uncaring, or confrontational.
  • Staying alert for signs of inappropriate involvement, including sexual intimacy, dependency, or subconscious manipulation, even when the relationship is proceeding well.
  • Recognizing the potential conflict between the mentor’s desire to maximize productivity in his/her research and the duty of a mentor to support students’ timely progress in their graduate program.

If you feel uncomfortable with the relationship with your mentor, find someone to talk. Do not feel as though you have no way out; others are there to help you through trying times.

Information from: