Following are some suggestions for structuring the mentoring relationship. You may want to discuss them with your mentoring partner, in order to decide which are most relevant to your situation.


Mentor Guidelines

  • Take the initiative in the relationship. Initiate contact (both at the beginning and later, if you haven't heard from your mentee for a while), suggest topics to discuss, and ask what your mentee's needs are.
  • Be explicit about your limits (especially when and how you would like to be contacted, and how extensive a role you are willing to play in the mentee's professional life).
  • Keep your discussions confidential. Your mentee needs your assurance on this point in order to develop trust in the relationship.
  • Be aware that your mentee may have needs that differ from your own when you were at her career stage. Listen to her respectfully and try to provide what she asks for rather than what you think she needs.
  • State explicitly that you are only making suggestions, and do not be offended if your mentee chooses not to take your advice. Let your mentee know that she may well receive conflicting advice from different people, and that it is her responsibility to make her own decisions.
  • Be encouraging. Share stories of your own and others' successes, and remind your mentee of her own successes.
  • Be honest in your advice\u2014don't be afraid to offer critical feedback. When criticism is offered, it should be followed with constructive advice for improvement.
  • Don't reverse the relationship. Don't ask your mentee for advice or support. If you have mentoring needs of your own, please register on WILMA as a mentee and find your own mentor.
  • Review the mentoring agreement with your partner annually, and make any changes you think are necessary. Remember that such relationships change and evolve.
  • If your mentoring partnership doesn't seem to be working out, either reassess your goals and expectations with your mentee, or end the relationship. Should you decide to end the relationship (which we hope will very rarely be necessary), try to do so on good terms. (Also see the policy section below.)

Mentee Guidelines

  • Ask explicitly for advice, and be as specific as possible in doing so. Do not assume that advice will be offered if it is not solicited.
  • Be considerate of your mentor's time. Abide by the limits that she sets, and be sure to respond promptly to her messages or phone calls.
  • Be sure to show appreciation for the time and assistance given to you by your mentor.
  • Keep your discussions confidential. This is as important from your side of the relationship as it is from the mentor's.
  • Pay attention to what your mentor has to say. Although some information may seem irrelevant to you, it may prove useful in the future. Take notes during your conversations with her, and save her email messages.
  • Seriously consider the advice given to you by your mentor. Do not reject her advice out of hand because it does not seem to be the perfect solution at that instant, or because it contradicts other advice you have been given. It is your responsibility to make your own decisions.
  • Review the mentoring agreement with your partner annually, and make any changes you think are necessary. Remember that such relationships change and evolve.
  • If your mentoring partnership doesn't seem to be working out, either reassess your goals and expectations with your mentee, or end the relationship. Should you decide to end the relationship (which we hope will very rarely be necessary), try to do so on good terms. (Also see the policy section below.)

Some Mentoring Pitfalls

Mentoring is not necessarily a problem-free activity. Here are a few areas that may require your consideration:

  • We cannot stress enough that all of us suffer from severely limited time. If time becomes a problem in your mentoring relationship, discuss this, and try to work out solutions. Shorter and more frequent communication may help, as may regularly scheduled communication (as opposed to an "at will" approach).
  • Because WILMA matches women from different institutions, the mentor may sometimes feel that she lacks the specific knowledge needed to help the mentee. The mentor should remember that she is only expected to offer guidance, and that in some cases guidance may just involve suggestions about who else to approach, or what questions to ask. The mentor may also simply lack expertise in a particular area of interest to the mentee (e.g. computing technology, or a specific family-vs.-career issue). In that case, the mentor may want to investigate the topic herself (if she has time, and is interested), or should simply feel free to say that she can't help on this point.
  • Over-dependence can be a problem from either side of the relationship, but especially so in the case of the mentee. It may be helpful for the mentor to encourage the mentee to form other mentoring relationships outside of the WILMA partnership. These can be with people in the mentee's own institution, with other linguists in the mentee's field, or perhaps with other linguists at the same career stage as the mentee.

Topics for Discussion

Only some of the points which follow will be appropriate for your particular situation. Disregard those that are not relevant to your situation, and let us know of topics that you think should be added to the list (email the webmaster).

  • Choosing a graduate program. (Which departments are good in which areas of linguistics? What are the general reputations of the schools that the student is interested in attending? Financial aid considerations.)
  • Selecting and dealing with an advisor. (What should a beginning graduate student look for in an advisor? What should one do in the case of problems?)
  • Marketability. (Given how tight the job market is, graduate students can do certain things to increase their marketability. What courses might they take for this purpose? What other strategies might help here?)
  • Preparing for orals and other program requirements. (What strategies did the mentor find useful in her own graduate career? How should the mentee prepare academically and psychologically?)
  • Fellowships and grants. (The application process. How to find out what's available. NB: The LSA has a guide to grants that is quite helpful.)
  • Abstract writing and conferences. (What are the elements of a successful abstract? What conferences should the mentee attend and participate in? How does and when should one get involved in special panels, symposia, and workshops? Finding conference funding.)
  • Giving conference talks. (Stage fright. Presentation style. Handouts. Technology and audiovisual aids.)
  • Writing (and surviving) the dissertation. (How did the mentor do it? Getting organized, keeping to a writing schedule, working with the committee, dealing with feelings of isolation.)
  • Non-traditional career paths. (Re-entering academia. Avoiding exploitation in adjunct positions. Surviving as an independent scholar.)
  • The curriculum vitae or resume. (What should\u2014and should not\u2014be in it? How does a business or industrial CV differ from an academic one? Adapting the CV or resume for different types of jobs. Formatting advice.)
  • Applying for academic jobs. (How does the application process work? The letter of application. Supporting materials. The costs of the job search. Interviews at conferences. Campus visits and job talks. What questions should one expect and ask? How should one negotiate an offer? What can one do to prepare for each stage? Post-docs. Adjunct positions. International positions. Mid-career moves.)
  • Jobs in departments other than linguistics departments. (What kinds of departments seek out linguists? What is the role of a linguist in such a department? Finding other linguists on campus, across departments. Becoming a member of a new discipline while maintaining one's identity as a linguist.)
  • Jobs outside academia. (What kinds of things are available? What areas of specialization are best for getting a job outside of academia? How does one find out about such jobs? Networking. Informational interviews. How to negotiate a contract in industry/business. Things to find out before one takes a non-academic job. Consulting and self-employment. Making the transition from academia, and maintaining membership in the academic community. How to balance corporate expectations and one's own desire for intellectual exploration.)
  • Partner hire. (When is it possible? Does the institution have a policy? What strategies should one use to engineer one?)
  • Stress and time management. (Developing a writing schedule. Finding leisure time. Balancing multiple demands on one's time.)
  • Planning and teaching classes. (Finding resources. Managing the class. Teaching an unfamiliar topic.)
  • Working with graduate students. (Grading. Developing and balancing professional and personal relationships with graduate students. Issues of authority. Writing letters of recommendation. Mentoring.)
  • Research. (Grant-writing. Joint research. Developing a coherent research program. Procrastination and endless rewriting. Developing a "draft group" with others in one's area. nb: the mentor may choose to offer assistance in this area by reading and making comments on the mentee's writing, but the mentee should be careful about asking for such a time-consuming favor from the mentor.)
  • Publishing articles. (Locating appropriate journals. The cover letter. Style sheets. Rules against multiple submissions. Dealing with rejections and requests for revisions.)
  • Writing a book. (Is it necessary, to get tenure? How does one do it? The relationship between a dissertation and a first book. How does one get a book published? What publishers would be interested in the topic? Differing policies on multiple submissions.)
  • Academic and professional politics. (Determining what the issues are. Avoiding involvement in long-standing feuds. How to make oneself heard without making enemies.)
  • Networking. (Who should the mentee try to meet, given her specific interests? How does one make contact? Is the mentor willing to put the mentee in touch with relevant people?)
  • Service requirements. (Service at different levels: the department, the institution, the profession. At the departmental and institutional level: how much is realistic? Can one say \u201cno\u201d? Moving into an administrative position. Service to the profession: reviewing manuscripts, abstracts, etc.; serving on national committees and boards.)
  • The tenure process. (How does it work? How to cope with the stress? What are the requirements, and how does one find out about them? Are there documents explaining the process available from your institution? Are there models of successful tenure packets that one can look at? Extensions of the probationary period.)
  • Promotion. (When and how does it happen? Getting support from a chair, head, dean, or boss. Moving up the ranks in a non-academic job.)
  • Difficult colleagues. (What can one do about them? How does one handle them?)
  • Specific needs based on age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, nationality, or other factors. (Finding a supportive community. Taking action against discrimination and harassment. What political fall-out may result if one speaks up? Avoiding tokenization and marginalization. Being a role model without sacrificing one's career and personal life.)
  • Children. (Childcare. Parental leave policy. Are both partners covered? Will it affect the mentee's hiring options or tenure case if she gives birth to or adopts a child early in her career?)

Pros and Cons of Mentoring Relationships

The potential advantages of participating in a mentoring relationship are great, especially for the woman being mentored. The obvious advantage for the mentee is that she benefits from the broader experience of a woman who is her senior in the field. An experienced mentor can provide a more junior woman with information about the process in which she is participating at her particular career stage and about what is expected of her, and help her plan effective strategies. An advantage of having a mentor at a different institution is that there will likely be no conflict between the mentor's relationship with the mentee and other institutional commitments. The mentor can also be an important source of support, as well as a point of reference, for a mentee who is having experiences the mentor understands and may have gone through herself.

Assuming that both women involved in the mentoring relationship are reasonable individuals capable of negotiating and then honoring the parameters of the relationship, there are no particular disadvantages for the mentee. However, the mentee does have some responsibilities that she must take seriously for the relationship to be successful. The mentoring relationship exists to meet the mentee's career-related needs. (If the mentor has needs of her own, she is expected to meet these by establishing a separate relationship in which she is the mentee.) Thus, the mentee is responsible for defining her needs, expressing them clearly to a potential mentoring partner, and negotiating the relationship with the potential partner on this basis. The mentee is also responsible for being proactive in seeking help from her mentor when she needs it.

For the mentor, the partnership holds the potential for both advantages and some minor disadvantages. One advantage for mentors is the potential for retaining a sense of connectedness in the field. It may become easier for academics to feel distanced from the concerns and research programs of younger academics the more senior they become. For senior women, relationships with younger mentees may be a way of remaining "plugged in." Another advantage for mentors is that using knowledge or experience to help others may respond to a basic need to reciprocate if we have been helped ourselves, or simply a desire to help others. Potential disadvantages of mentoring relationships for mentors could be the time commitment required, if mentees are especially needy, and the responsibility to be proactively involved from time to time. Just as mentees have the responsibility for defining their needs and communicating these clearly to the mentor, the mentor has the responsibility of being realistic about her ability to meet those needs, and to communicate her limits clearly to the mentee.

A potential discomfort for both parties in the mentoring relationship could be the need to be clear at all points: in establishing and setting the parameters of the partnership; in sustaining it; and in seeking a termination when the relationship has ceased to be helpful. The commitment to be clear is important, so that the usefulness of the relationship can be evaluated from time to time. When a mentoring partnership is no longer functional (as, for example, when needs change and new needs cannot be negotiated), both parties should be free to move on to other partnerships without any feelings of rejection or guilt.