How can we become better mentors & mentees?

The Mentoring Guide is an outstanding little book, full of great advice and practical suggestions, for both mentors and mentees.

Jul 13, 2019
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As a university professor, I teach and mentor students. While I have invested a lot in learning about pedagogy and the art of teaching (see my earlier post "How can we become better teachers?"), I now realize that mentorship is something I have stumbled into - picked up by observation and experience. I have been lucky to have had good mentors in my life (see my TEDx talk on this), and I have tried to copy some of their best traits and practices. But, until now, I have never read a book on mentoring, nor taken a formal course in.

Reading "The Mentoring Guide" by Vineet Chopra (@vineet_chopra), Valerie Vaughn (@ValerieVaughnMD), and Sanjay Saint (@sanjaysaint), has been a real eye-opener. I had no idea that so much scholarly work has been done in the area of mentorship! 

I wish I had read this book when I started my career as an Assistant Professor 12 years ago; it could have really helped me and my former trainees. But it is never too late to learn and I am looking forward to applying the key lessons of this book with my current and future mentees.

The authors of the book (photo) are physicians at the University of Michigan. They have published several papers on mentorship and this book is a compilation of their amazing resources on the topic. In fact, they have distilled years of experience and wisdom into a slim, highly readable book that can be read in half a day.

Authors of The Mentoring Guide: Vineet Chopra (left), Valerie Vaughn (middle) and Sanjay Saint (right). Photo courtesy: Vineet Chopra, University of Michigan.

By reading this book, I learnt that a team of mentors can offer far more than one single mentor. I also learnt that mentors come in 4 phenotypes: the traditional mentor, the coach, the sponsor, and the connector. One can play one role for many mentees, or many roles for one mentee. If one is too busy to take on the traditional mentor role, one could still agree to be a coach, sponsor or a connector. I found this liberating, in many ways. I now realize that I have played these four roles without quite understanding the difference.

The book provides a superb overview of what the authors call "mentorship malpractice". The table below is from one of their journal publications in JAMA on this topic and is an excellent summary of how to diagnose and treat mentorship malpractice. While I try hard to keep my ego under check (see my post on Ego is the Enemy, especially for academics), and avoid being the hijacker, exploiter, or the possessor, I do worry about committing "The World Traveler" malpractice!

Table from: Chopra V et al. Mentorship malpractice. JAMA 2016;315(14):1453-1454.

The book is not just about mentors. There are entire sections dedicated to helping mentees avoid landmines. The Table below, again from the authors' journal publication in JAMA, is a superb summary of how mentees can avoid common missteps. I have seen my students struggle with some of these issues, especially "The Overcommitter" and "The Lone Wolf" missteps.

Table from: Vaugh V, et al. Mentee Missteps. Tales From the Academic TrenchesJAMA 2017;317(5):475-476.

The book ends with helpful chapters on how to mentor millennials, and how to mentor across diversity with a focus on women. Since many of my students are millennials and women, I particularly enjoyed the practical advice on these issues. With millennials, for example, the book emphasizes the need to put hierarchy aside, facilitate short but frequent interactions, and support their search for meaning and purpose. The book also includes a detailed appendix full of excellent resources and references. 

I am happy to have read this useful book and have already shared it with my students and mentees. I hope they will become better mentees now and excellent mentors in future, armed with the insights this book provides.

Madhukar Pai

Director, McGill Global Health Programs

I am a Professor and a Canada Research Chair in Epidemiology & Global Health at McGill University, Montreal. I serve as the Director of McGill Global Health Programs, and Director of the McGill International TB Centre. URL: http://www.paitbgroup.org/

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