Mentor Program Guidelines

Prepared by Andrea Gore, Ph.D., Marie Grace, Ph.D., Kathryn Kaplan, Ph.D., Annabel Wang, M.D.

A. Approaching and starting a mentoring relationship

  1. Initial contact

    Decide whether email or a phone call is best. Is your question best dealt with by email, or would a quick phone call be better? If you do not know the person, you may want to email first.

    a) E-mail (or mail): Recommended if person is unknown or not well-known to you. If you do not get a response, follow up in a week with another E-mail or phone call.

    1. In subject line of the E-mail, indicate your specific subject (e.g., "mentorship").
    2. By way of introduction, say why you are calling and how you got the person's name (e.g., through the WFG list; recommended by someone).
    3. Be prepared: be specific & brief in the purpose of your message.
    4. Ask the person if (s)he is willing to do this, or if you should seek help elsewhere.
    5. Compose your message first in your word processing program. This will make it easy to proofread, not to send it prematurely, and to save a copy. Then paste the text into the message section of your E-mail.
    6. Include a "return receipt" on your E-mail if possible.
    7. Provide your complete contact information and the best times to be reached.
    8. If you wish to follow up with a meeting, suggest what days and times are good for you.
    9. Consider attaching a cv (2-page biosketch if that will suffice) or other relevant documents.

    b) Phone Call: If you know the person and are comfortable with her or him, you may wish to make a phone call. In addition, some people don’t check emails regularly, and must be called.

    Most of the above suggestions for emailing also apply to phone calls. To highlight important points:

    1. When you first call, ask if this is a good time, and if not, ask when would be a better time to call.
    2. Introduce yourself and state the purpose of your call concisely.
    3. Be prepared: have specific questions ready.
    4. Give the mentor the opportunity to set a time and place to meet.
    5. Ask the mentor what materials you can provide to help with mentoring (e.g., cv, grant, manuscript).
    6. Don't call at the last minute. Give the mentor enough time to deal with your situation.
  2. Short-term (or "one-shot" situations)
  3. If you are contacting a mentor for a specific piece of advice and are not seeking a long-term relationship, clarify in advance that you expect that this will be a limited time commitment, not a long-term time burden. A mentor who is busy may be willing to help you with a single situation who would otherwise not have time for a long-term relationship.

    Examples: Critiquing and Reading specific aims of a grant or study section critique

  4. Long-term relationship
  5. For the initial contact and to start the relationship, we recommend clarifying the specific need or question for which your are seeking advice. This helps both the mentor and the mentee determine the possibility of a mutual relationship. The mentee should evaluate as soon as possible whether the person will be a good mentor for her: how hard/easy it was to meet the mentor, the value of the mentor's feedback, and the ease of interaction.

    Examples: Setting long-term goals

B. Guidelines for Mentors

  1. Evaluate your skills and time: Evaluate whether you are the right person for the job, in terms of both expertise and time. Be realistic: most women undervalue their expertise! Also, keep in mind that while you cannot be everything to a mentee, it is likely that you will be able to perform a specific mentoring function.
  2. If you want to say no: If you are contacted and feel that you are NOT the best person, suggest someone else with expertise. Otherwise recommend that she contact someone in the WFG program for a recommendation.
  3. If you say yes:

    a) Be available.

    b) Be critical: be willing to give constructive criticism as well as praise, and suggest options for "fixing" problems.

    c) Be courteous: Give sufficient notice before changing meetings. Respond to emails and telephone calls promptly.

    d) Be in touch: Try to keep in touch regularly, through emails or WFG group meetings.

    e) Be honest about the relationship: Clarify your role and exactly what the mentee expects of you. Let your mentee know if you think the relationship needs to change, due to changes in her needs, pressures on your time, etc.

    f) Play a role in career advancement: Talk about your mentee's accomplishments within the institution, introduce her to others, and recommend her for national events.

    g) Help establish goals: What do you and your mentee hope to accomplish?

C. Guidelines for Mentees

  1. Have realistic expectations. Realize that your mentor may not be everything to you, and that you may need to find multiple mentors.
  2. Ask for specific advice, and be receptive to input, even if it is not what you want to hear. However,
  3. Be critical of feedback and advice. You don't need to do everything your mentor says. You may want to get a second opinion if you do not agree, or to discuss other options with your mentor.
  4. Evaluate the relationship. Is it difficult to contact the mentor? Does (s)he cancel meetings at the last minute?
  5. Take responsibility for the relationship. You are responsible for contacting the mentor and setting up appointments. If possible, attend WFG and other mutually interesting functions with your mentor, even if this is a way just to keep in touch.
  6. Follow up. If your mentor offers good advice, you need to act on it.
  7. Keep in touch. Be sure to communicate with your mentor. Give your mentor progress reports by email, or try to see her or him at WFG and medical school functions, if you are between mentorship sessions.
  8. Be considerate. Be prompt to meetings. If you need to reschedule, give your mentor plenty of advance notice (at least 24 hours). Recognize that your mentor is busy, and respect her or his time.
  9. Establish the nature of the relationship. This needs to be done in conjunction with the mentor:

    a) Formal or informal

    b) Set specific goals for the relationship – what will you get out of it?

    c) Frequency of meetings

  10. Realize that relationships are dynamic. Your relationship with your mentor may change over time, and be prepared to make changes if necessary.
  11. Take advantage of opportunities to work with senior women and men.
  12. Confidentiality: Your mentorship relationship is a personal one. You need to establish with your mentor the degree to which this advice is kept confidential.
  13. Appreciation: Let your mentor know when (s)he has helped you, and express appreciation for this guidance.

D. Web sites

National Academy of Science Press: "Adviser, Teacher, Role Model, Friend."

Harvard Business School: "Beyond the Myth of the Perfect Mentor: Building a Network of Developmental Relationships."

Stanford University School of Medicine: Faculty mentoring program

E. Publications & Contacts

Bicket J, Clark J (2000). Women in Medicine Update. AAMC Vol. 14 no. 2.

AAMC descriptions of faculty mentoring programs: Renee Marshall Lawson, (202) 828-0521,

Bower DJ, Diehr S, Morzinski JA, Simpson DE (1998). Support-challenge-vision: A model for faculty mentoring. Medical Teacher 20: 595-597.

Bligh JD (1999). Mentoring: an invisible support network. Medical Education 33: 2-3.

Osborn TM, Waecherle JF, Perina D, Keyes LE (1999) Mentorship: Through the looking glass into our future. Ann Emerg Med 34: 285-289.

Schoenfeld, AC, Magnan, R (1994). Mentor in a Manual: Climbing the Academic Ladder to Tenure. Atwood Publishing, Madison WI.

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