Mentoring Guidelines & Best Practices

Mentoring at Illinois

Faculty mentoring influences not just the success of individual faculty, but the intellectual culture and achievement of the entire unit. While each unit may tailor its mentoring program to fit the specifics of its discipline and its own situation, it is vital for the unit to create opportunities for mentoring relationships to form.


The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign strives to be a vibrant and supportive institution where faculty can reach their highest aspirations in teaching, research, and service. Faculty mentoring is a crucial component of this process. At multiple stages of career development, faculty benefit from the advice and support of their colleagues through both formal and informal channels.

All levels of the University share a responsibility for faculty development. Colleges, schools, and departments should provide opportunities that enhance faculty careers and ensure that faculty have the tools and information necessary to realize their full potential. The Provost’s Office also offers a variety of resources and programs for faculty development.

This document offers guidance to units for mentoring faculty. The goal is to encourage all departments to have a mentoring program in place. The particular form and shape of the program may vary by unit, reflecting the unit’s mission, culture, and size as well as disciplinary standards and expectations.

Benefits of Mentoring

Extensive research on faculty development shows that a culture of mentoring is vital to the success of the institution and the professional growth of its members.[1] Mentoring can produce more effective research, teaching, and university service; higher rates of retention; stronger commitment to an academic career; a greater sense of ownership and connection to the discipline and institution; deeper collaborations and more extensive networks; better work-life balance; and enhanced use of resources and opportunities available within the institution and the discipline. Each of these outcomes improves the organizational climate and institutional character for all faculty members.

Mentoring Relationships

Mentoring is fundamentally about relationships. Mentoring relationships facilitate opportunities to exchange information and allow both mentor and mentee to learn from each other. Mentors play different roles, reflecting both the needs of the mentee and the depth of the relationship. These relationships can grow and strengthen, taking mentorship from simply providing advice to a deeper level of cooperation and trust.


The mentor provides general knowledge about the policies, norms, and expectations of the University environment. They may provide feedback about a specific project, teaching a class, or navigating bureaucracy. In general, this type of mentoring relationship operates during the first year or two of being on campus. This kind of advice is often generic and not customized for a particular faculty member.


A career mentor provides guidance and advice about the strategic choices in the career process:  how to allocate time and resources, what sort of outlets are most appropriate for the research, finding work-life balance, matching activities with career goals, etc.


In this type of relationship, the mentor helps to create professional opportunities by introducing the mentee into professional networks, including them in research proposals, nominating them for prestigious opportunities, and/or connecting them to the broader discipline.

These relationships provide different types of benefits to the mentee. In turn, they also involve different levels of commitment by the mentor. Advice about orienting to campus is relatively costless to give; including a colleague on a proposal or introducing them to one’s network, on the other hand, requires a level of trust and confidence in the mentee that is likely to take time and effort to cultivate. It is important for all parties to have realistic expectations about the mentoring relationship. The deepest mentoring relationships—and often the most rewarding—take time to grow and will flourish only with sustained effort from both parties.

Mentoring Programs

Deliberately cultivating mentoring relationships is crucial for the success of the faculty and for advancing the missions of the unit and the university. The goal of a department mentoring program is to provide a constructive framework for faculty development and growth. A department mentoring program represents a set of strategies and practices designed to facilitate the exchange of information about expectations and activities between the unit and the faculty member; equip the faculty member with the skills and knowledge to manage his/her career; and connect the faculty member with colleagues and resources that enhance career success.

Individual faculty require advice and guidance that is specific to their particular professional goals and career stage. Faculty careers are multidimensional and dynamic (see fig 1). Faculty are expected to be successful in research, teaching, and service—domains that sometimes require different skill sets. They need to navigate relationships in the department, campus, and discipline, and build a work-life balance that allows them to flourish in the long term. Moreover, faculty roles change over time as responsibilities and interests evolve. Mentoring programs, therefore, must be flexible and responsive to meet the varied and changing needs of faculty.

Units may meet the career needs of their faculty in a variety of ways. A department’s mentoring program will reflect disciplinary norms of scholarly activity, the department’s internal organization and culture, and the constellation of resources at the unit, college, and campus levels. Differences in expectations, organization, and resources will influence how units seek to advise and support faculty. Just as no one mentoring model fits every faculty member, no one program fits all departments.

An effective and successful mentoring program depends crucially on the pro-active participation of the individual faculty and his/her unit(s). Both the department and the mentee should periodically review the mentee’s career objectives and interests and adjust the mentoring strategy accordingly. These adjustments may include changing mentors, expanding the mentoring network, or engaging different support resources.

Models of Mentoring

Mentoring models can take many forms—an assigned mentor is only one option. The right mentoring model represents the intersection between the needs of the mentee at a particular career stage as well as the resources and nature of the unit. The interests and career goals of the faculty member are likely to change over time, potentially necessitating a different mentoring model.

Single mentor assigned from beginning

The advantage of this approach is that the mentee has an automatic “in” with the mentor. It is probably most appropriate for new hires who need orientation to campus. While this type of relationship is important and can grow, neither the mentee nor the mentor should feel pressure to force this type of mentoring relationship to meet all the mentee’s needs.

 Single mentor selected by mentee

The mentee interacts with one mentor who has been selected by the mentee. Because the mentee is choosing the mentor, it is more likely that there is affinity between the two. But this model may be a challenge if the mentee is not fully aware of the potential mentor options. For instance, a junior person may not know senior colleagues outside of the department.

With both these options, the mentee relies on a single mentor to address questions across a variety of areas—research, teaching, service, work-life balance. A single mentor might not be in a position to address all of those concerns adequately. Group mentoring may be better able to address the variety of concerns and career goals. A group approach may also allow units to pool resources and build connections across disciplines.

Group mentoring: Mentoring by Committee

One model might involve a committee of senior mentors meetings with an individual mentee. As committee members discuss the mentee’s questions, career goals, and performance, the mentee is able to hear different perspectives and can learn from when committee members are in consensus and when they disagree. A committee approach, however, may be too formal for some participants.

Group mentoring:  Senior Mentors

Another possibility is for two senior mentors to meet regularly with a group of mentees, as in a teaching, research, or leadership academy. One advantage of this model is that mentees receive guidance not only from the senior leaders, but also from each other. It may be a challenge, however, to insure that this approach is able to meet the particular needs of each individual participant.

Group mentoring:  Peer-to-Peer

Another group model involves peer-to-peer mentoring, as in a book-writing group or a teaching circle. Peer mentoring groups bring together faculty who face similar challenges, helping them forge a connection and address each other’s needs. Some peer groups, however, may benefit from external guidance and direction.

Network of mentors

Perhaps the best approach for a faculty member is to build a network of mentors inside the unit, outside the unit across campus, and within the discipline. A network of mentors can provide feedback, advice, and guidance on different matters related to research, teaching, service, institutional culture, and work-life balance. The research literature on mentoring has shown that a network of mentors is most effective in helping faculty achieve their career goals. Building such a network, however, takes time and effort.

Fostering a Culture of Mentoring

Faculty development is a collective responsibility that, in turn, helps to ensure the unit’s collective long-term success. Mentoring represents an investment—an investment that pays dividends in active, dynamic colleagues, an enriched scholarly environment, and enhanced opportunities for collaboration in research, teaching, and governance. Each department should foster a culture where mentoring is an integral part of the relationship between the faculty. A department can develop an environment conducive to mentoring in several ways.

First, the Unit EO should work with individual faculty to establish a mentoring strategy and career advising plan. As part of regular discussions between the Unit EO and the individual faculty about expectations for research, teaching, and service, the EO and individual faculty can identify a mentor or network of mentors that fit the expertise of the faculty and his/her needs at his/her career stage. Helping to find potential mentors is particularly crucial for faculty members who are new to campus. EOs should have an awareness of the potential impact of factors such as culture, language, gender, orientation, and power balance on the mentor-mentee relationship. It is important to engage in ongoing conversations with the mentee on the qualities of her/his ideal mentors and what she or he hopes to gain from a mentoring relationship. For faculty who hold joint appointments, the home unit should work with the faculty and the other unit(s) to develop one mentoring plan that takes into account the expectations of all the units (see Provost Communication 23). If appropriate, the Unit EO may call on the expertise of the Dean to help identify potential mentors from other units.

Second, the Unit EO can apply good mentoring practices to existing review processes, including annual reviews, annual peer observations of teaching, and the third year review. While the primary purpose of these reviews is evaluative, the department can enhance the impact of these processes by asking the individual candidate to engage in self-reflection about his/her goals and performance; listening carefully to the candidate’s own evaluations; finding ways to connect the candidate’s activities and the unit’s broader objectives; and re-evaluating the mentoring plan.

Third, the Unit EO can make faculty aware of development resources at the college and the campus levels. These resources include not only policies and guidelines to insure faculty success (e.g., tenure rollbacks, modified duties), but also programmatic activities such as seminars, academies, and workshops. There are also national-level programs and opportunities to help (e.g., NFCDD). EOs should encourage and support attendance at these activities.

Fourth, the Unit EO can foster a departmental climate that encourages mentoring and support for junior and mid-career colleagues. The EO can demonstrate that commitment by pursing policies and activities that are geared toward faculty development, including:

  • prioritize junior faculty for scarce unit resources, including making them aware of research opportunities;
  • advocate for junior and mid-career faculty;
  • engage in active promotion of faculty development at the unit level;
  • meet regularly with junior faculty as a group and mid-career faculty as a group to share information about departmental policies and practices and to solicit input about future directions and priorities;
  • organize opportunities for junior and mid-career faculty to present research-in-progress with the community;
  • insure that junior and mid-career faculty have the chance to meet with external speakers and visitors;
  • initiate programming that addresses the concerns of junior and mid-career faculty;
  • support peer-to-peer mentoring initiatives among junior and mid-career faculty like book-writing groups or teaching circles;
  • nominate faculty for awards, fellowships, national panels, and other high-status opportunities.

These activities signal to all faculty—junior and senior alike—that the unit is committed to the success and development of its faculty.

Finally, the unit should provide potential mentors with resources and information about effective mentoring practices. Unit EOs can explain the different roles of a mentor, clarify expectations for the mentoring relationship, provide guidance about appropriate professional boundaries, and help mentors understand how best to communicate their advice. This information may be especially valuable for mentoring faculty of different backgrounds. The Unit EO can also make a mentor aware of the resources on campus to support the mentoring relationship.

Units can also recognize and honor those faculty who engage in successful mentoring. Units may devise their own programs for rewarding the vital role that mentors play in the success of their colleagues. Recognition may include annual awards and consideration of mentoring in the annual faculty evaluation of service to the unit and the institution. In addition, the Provost’s Office hosts a Campus Excellence in Faculty Mentoring Award.

Role of the Mentor

Mentors understand that they have a responsibility to help other faculty fulfill their potential in order to insure the long-term excellence of their unit. Mentors recognize that the time they devote to the mentoring relationship is an investment. They must have a disposition to support their colleagues.

An effective mentor requires the abilities to listen and provide complete, appropriate, constructive, and frank feedback; to be respectful of confidentiality and professional boundaries; and to recognize when one can offer feedback and when it is more appropriate to refer the mentee to other faculty members or resources with the relevant expertise and experience. Mentors must also realize that the mentoring relationship will grow and change over time, as the mentee’s career goals change.

Effective mentors can come from anywhere on campus. Ideally, however, the mentor is familiar with the faculty mentee’s area of expertise, his/her research area, and his/her teaching interests. The mentor should also be conversant with the unit’s expectations and performance standards.

The mentor and the mentee should meet regularly or as needed during the academic year. The mentor should always respond to the mentee in a timely manner.

A healthy mentoring relationship allows the mentee to grow and chart her/his own career path. The goal is for the mentee to become independent. This is particularly true for junior faculty mentees, who must demonstrate an independent contribution to their scholarly field to earn tenure. Faculty mentors must avoid a temptation to provide support that may, ultimately, prevent the growth of the mentee. For instance, pulling a mentee into the mentor’s project is helpful only if the mentee will make an identifiable contribution and if participation will not prevent the mentee from completing her/her own independent research. Mentors must also resist an urge to do the mentee’s research for them. Feedback and guidance are appropriate, but actually performing the research prevents the mentee from developing as a scholar. Finally, it is unethical and completely antithetical to a healthy mentoring relationship for a mentor to appropriate or steal a mentee’s research idea.

Role of the Mentee/Faculty

Mentoring is not a passive activity for the mentee. Instead, mentees play an active role in developing mentoring relationships. By taking the initiative to create and engage different opportunities, mentees can drive their mentoring experience.

First, the mentee should be proactive in working with the unit to develop a mentoring plan and change it as the need arises or circumstances change. Mentees should ask Unit EOs for guidance in identifying mentoring opportunities and for assistance in taking advantage of them. Mentees can also provide feedback on their mentoring experiences, helping the EO to understand whether the mentee is receiving information and advice appropriate to their career goals.

Second, faculty should take the initiative to avail themselves of the resources available within their department, college, campus, and discipline. They should seek opportunities for formal and informal interaction with academic leaders, senior colleagues and colleagues in the same career stage (for peer-to-peer mentoring opportunities).

Third, the mentee’s behavior affects how mentoring relationships develop. Effective mentoring depends on the mentee taking an active role in the mentor/mentee relationship, providing the mentor with clear and honest input, sharing candid assessments, asking thoughtful questions, and identifying areas where improvements are needed.

Asking for advice, however, is only part of the process. The mentee needs to provide feedback to the mentor, acknowledge appreciation for the mentor’s time, share news of successes and achievements, and, as the relationship strengthens, introduce the mentor to new networks and research frontiers. This type of interaction provides incentives for the mentor to deepen the mentoring relationship.

Finally, faculty mentees need to recognize that mentors are not responsible for their success. A mentor provides advice, guidance, and, in some cases, opportunities. But individual faculty are ultimately accountable for their own decisions and scholarly progress. Both mentees and mentors must take advantage of these opportunities for these relationships to grow and flourish. Over time, as the mentee’s career goals change, both the department and the mentee should periodically review the mentoring plan and make necessary adjustments.

Additional Resources

[1] For discussions of research on the benefits of mentoring, see for, instance: Allen & Eby, 2008; Allen et al., 2008; Blau et al., 2010; Bode, 1999; Boice, 1992; Greenhaus & Callanan, 2013; Johnson, 2007; Kammeyer-Mueller & Judge 2008; Lucas & Murry 2011; Moody 2004; Sands, Parson, & Duane, 1991; Sorcinelli & Jung 2008; Stanley & Lincoln 2005; Wingard, Garmin, and  Reznick 2004. For a more extensive list of reading on mentoring, visit the Faculty Mentoring Guidelines: Resources page.


For assistance with faculty and career development, please call the Office of the Provost (217-333-6677).