USM Faculty Mentoring Taskforce Report 2013

USM Faculty Mentoring Taskforce Report 2013 Printable Version



The University of Southern Mississippi


Report of the University Mentoring Taskforce


September 2013


 A faculty mentoring task force was established in October 2012 by the Office of the Provost at the University of Southern Mississippi. The charge to the task force was to develop a mentoring plan that provides guidance to mentors and includes both suggestions and best practices that should be employed to help assure the success of our new faculty. 



 Faculty Mentoring Task Force


Phyllis Jestice, College of Arts and Letters, Taskforce Chair

Jeanne Gillespie, College of Arts and Letters

Sharon Topping, College of Business

Thomas Lipscomb, College of Education and Psychology

Frederick “Rick” Green, College of Health

Anita Boykins, College of Nursing

Faqing Huang, College of Science and Technology

 Report of the University Mentoring Taskforce


Over the past several years, the University of Southern Mississippi has taken important steps toward creating a junior faculty mentoring program.  All incoming faculty members are now assigned a departmental mentor, besides being invited to a number of orientation/mentoring events.  Clearly the university is moving in the right direction on this issue, and junior faculty acknowledge and are appreciative of these efforts.  Nonetheless, for most junior faculty members, mentoring has not been a very positive experience, in large part because neither mentors nor mentees know what is expected of them in their roles.  Successful mentoring is more a matter of chance than of planning, and can range from very positive in cases where the mentor takes the initiative to downright unhelpful (as unfortunately seems to usually be the case with the Gulf Coast campus).

 A successful faculty mentoring program should have the following elements:

  •   a university mentoring structure that provides accountability and guidance
  •   committed mentors who are trained in their task and receive some form of compensation for their work as mentors
  •   junior faculty members (hereafter called “mentees” with apologies) who are trained in what to expect from their mentors
  • department chairs who are educated on how to select a suitable mentor
  • assessment of mentoring, which should include
    •  significant consideration of mentoring as a service task on annual evaluations
    •  a central coordinator for mentors/mentees who will oversee the mentorship process
  •  occasional informational meetings for junior faculty
  •  a separate mentoring experience especially to address teaching issues
  •  mentoring resources available to address diversity issues
  •  a simple, transparent structure that is formal enough to give some guidance but not so cumbersome as to be a straitjacket.

 University Mentoring Structure

As the taskforce listened to focus groups of junior faculty and of mentors, several common complaints and concerns emerged.  They fall into two basic categories:

  1.  junior faculty members are inundated with information upon their arrival on campus, but at the same time do not have clearly-identified resources to find information as they really need to know it
  2.  even when a mentoring relationship is set up by the university, it usually rapidly fizzles because of lack of accountability.


New Faculty Orientation

To put this simply: please, please do not overwhelm new faculty with detailed information about third-year review and tenure.  Keep the orientation down to matters of how to use SOAR and where to find the post office.  Most of the junior faculty surveyed felt that they were told a great many things on their arrival that they did not yet have a context to understand and internalize adequately.


A One-Stop Shop for Faculty Information

What would be useful would be a new faculty website, with links to most commonly-needed information, a one-stop clearing house that new faculty members can bookmark and refer to as necessary.  It should be arranged conveniently by category (e.g., teaching resources, “where to go when your student has X problem,” ODA information, CSA information, code of conduct, authority structure, etc.)


Occasional Workshops for Junior Faculty

Not too many, and not too soon in the new faculty member’s career (not more than two in the first semester).  Some suggestions that seem particularly useful:

  • how to craft a grant proposal
  •  how to craft a book proposal for a press
  • how to pick a press
  •  a wide array of teaching workshops (not just for junior faculty and not just still more workshops about online teaching)

It should be noted that such topics vary enormously between disciplines (e.g., a grant proposal in Marine Biology will be very different from one in History) and often such workshops should be small affairs coordinated by college deans rather than university-wide events.

            More effort should be made to make such workshops available to Coast faculty.

 Activities that Allow the Incoming Faculty Cohort to Become Acquainted with Each Other

  • New faculty monthly lunches?
  • New faculty book group (on the trials of modern academia or other topics of interest)?
  • Distribute a directory of new faculty members among the cadre that includes department and contact information?

 Creating an Environment of Accountability

Mentors should be compensated, but should only receive additional pay or other resources if they present clear evidence that they’re doing their jobs.  On the principle that simpler is usually better with mentoring, we propose:

  •   An associate provost should be tasked with overseeing the coordination of mentoring activities, who will name a coordinator to deal with the occasional mentoring-related tasks that come up.
  • All department chairs with new faculty members should be asked to name an appropriate mentor for each new person; chairs should send this information to the designated coordinator no later than the end of September in the faculty member’s first year.
  •  The mentor coordinator should keep a database of mentor/mentee relationships, noting when the relationship began and when it should reach its formal, tracked end (after third-year review?).
  • At the end of each semester during the mentoring relationship, the mentor coordinator should solicit brief feedback from both the mentor and the mentee, including frequency of meetings.
  • Only after receiving evidence that at least two formal meetings have taken place in the semester the mentor coordinator should authorize payment to the mentor.
  • The Provost’s Office should also maintain a list of 2–3 experienced, effective mentors who can be called in as resources to counsel mentor/mentee pairs in establishing a more effective relationship if necessary.
  • The database should be regularly updated; if a mentor finds herself unable to continue the task or leaves the university, the mentor coordinator should approach the appropriate department chair to arrange for a new mentor.
  •  Each department chair should track who is mentoring whom in the department and occasionally check that mentoring is taking place.
  • Departments should consider mentoring as a significant service activity in annual evaluations.

 Committed Mentors

For the best chance of success, a mentor should be:

  • research-active in a field closely enough related to the mentee’s to give practical advice on publication, grant-seeking, etc.
  • not the department chair or a person in any other position of formal authority over the mentee
  • by preference, fairly junior associate professors who have been tenured and promoted in the recent past
  • willing to hold the position
  • compensated

 We recommend that the mentor adopt a two-pronged approach to working with the mentee:

  • regular (at least weekly) informal “how’s it going?” checking in, with special attention given to building a friendly relationship in which the mentee feels comfortable coming to ask for advice
  •  regular (at least monthly) more formal meetings to talk about the mentee’s plans and progress. 

 At the first formal mentoring meetings, mentor and mentee should work together to create realistic plans with deadlines—a roadmap toward a successful third-year review and then successful promotion and tenure.  It is particularly useful to create both short-term and long-term plans.  For example:

  •   by the end of the semester:
    • entify a grant-writing opportunity
    • complete proposal for new class
  • by end of first year:
    •  submit article on X topic for review by a journal
    •  finish revisions of chapters 1–3 of book manuscript
  •  by the time of third-year review:
    •    have revised dissertation under review by a press.

Such a roadmap serves several useful purposes:

  • it is a valuable check that the mentee knows what is expected for successful third-year review and promotion
  •  it is much more concrete and measurable than simply saying “how are you?” and “things are fine”
  • it can easily be revised as necessary; it should be regarded as a living document.


Mentoring should be holistic, not just about research and publication.  Mentors should be mindful of:

  •  the challenges their mentee is facing in teaching
  • service, especially acting as a strong source of advice on what service and how much service is appropriate for a junior faculty member
  • the need to integrate the new faculty member with the department and the profession, including introductions, social opportunities, and in general everything that can promote a culture of inclusiveness.

 Dealings between mentor and mentee should be private.  The mentor should not serve as informant to the department chair, although with the mentee’s consent s/he should help resolve problems the mentee may encounter with the home department.

 The mentor should be an advocate for the mentee.

 For more detailed recommendations on how mentors can structure their relationship with their mentees, please see Appendix I: Mentor Guidelines


 Training of Mentees in Expectations for Mentorship

Many junior faculty members reported discomfort in their relationship with their mentors because they simply did not know what they could legitimately ask of their mentor.  Many junior faculty members feel that should not show weakness or they’ll be attacked by departmental sharks.  Others don’t want to impose.  Still others have simply never seen a mentoring relationship and have no clear sense of what a mentor can or should do. 

For a possible handout that can be issued to junior faculty on the mentoring relationship, please see Appendix II: Mentee Guidelines.

Guidance for Department Chairs on How to Select Mentors

The taskforce frequently found that mentoring was unsuccessful because the initial pairing of mentor with mentee was unfortunate.  This is not a simple problem; the best role models in a department are often those who are most overworked already.  We hope, though, that Appendix III: Pairing Mentors with Mentees: A Guide for Department Chairs will help.

Special Needs of Coast Junior Faculty

On the whole, the USM faculty who have been least-served by new mentoring initiatives are those whose primary teaching responsibility is on the Gulf Park campus.  Focus group meetings with junior Coast faculty had several pervasive themes, most notably:

  •  Coast faculty have small class sizes but numerous preparations (often teaching four or more classes each semester “to keep the program going”—to very few students at a time).  They feel that their Hattiesburg colleagues have little understanding of or interest in this teaching conundrum, but that effectively a considerably larger amount of time has to be devoted to teaching than is normal for Hattiesburg faculty.
  •   There is a general perception among junior Coast faculty that they are being asked to perform at the same research level as Hattiesburgers without being given the same resources.  Specific instances cited can be traced back to the chaos following Katrina, but the saga of unresponsiveness to increasingly desperate efforts to set up a promised research lab were very moving.
  • Coast faculty don’t know the members of their discipline in Hattiesburg and vice versa.  There is a combined sense that evaluation of scholarship should take place at the hands of people competent in the discipline in question, but that Coast faculty are being judged unsympathetically by near strangers.

It is the belief of the taskforce that mentoring alone cannot re-balance the relationship between Coast and Hattiesburg faculty; department chairs and their deans must take primary responsibility for integrating departments better.  However, careful attention to mentoring can help.  We recommend that each new Coast faculty member should receive two mentors: 1) a member of the Coast faculty who can “show the ropes” about life on the Coast and 2) a faculty member with similar research interests on the Hattiesburg campus who will focus on research plans and accountability with the mentee. 

            More specifically we recommend that:

  •  The Hattiesburg mentor of a Coast junior faculty member should be compensated proportionately more, because there are greater expectations.
  • The Hattiesburg mentor should visit the mentee at the Coast campus at least twice a semester in the first year, to be as well-informed as possible about actual research and teaching conditions the new faculty member is experiencing.
  • The Hattiesburg mentor should aid in the process of informing the department chair/administration of conditions that may impede the junior faculty member’s progress and actively advocate for amelioration.
  • The Coast mentee should visit the mentor in Hattiesburg at least twice a semester in the first year, and the mentor should make special efforts to see that the Coast faculty member becomes acquainted with members of the department with similar research interests.
  • The Hattiesburg mentor should make special efforts to become acquainted with the mentee’s work, the better to advocate for the mentee on occasions when s/he is unable to be present at events where departmental business is discussed.
  •  The Hattiesburg mentor should carry out all other usual expectations of mentors.

 Mentoring for Successful Teaching

As the taskforce held focus-group meetings and discussed our findings and readings, we repeatedly had to remind ourselves to consider teaching and service. . . and just as repeatedly found that our focus had returned to research and publication.  Ideally, a mentor/mentee relationship should be holistic, including mentoring not just about research but about teaching, service, and community engagement.  The first line of advice for teaching should be within the department

            However, the taskforce also recommends a two-pronged effort to mentor teachers.  These programs should be open to all faculty, not just newcomers.

  • Regular workshops on pedagogical issues
    •  These should be offered at a variety of times and should never run for longer than an hour.
    •  As often as possible, they should be conducted by experienced members of the corps of instruction.
    •  Winners of teaching awards at both the college and the university should expect to conduct a workshop as one of the conditions of their award.
    •  Efforts should be made to make these workshops available to Coast faculty (including sometimes making the Coast the main location, with IVN link to Hattiesburg instead of vice versa).
    •  Some possible topics:
      •  roundtable discussion on how to provide useful comments when grading essays without dying of exhaustion
      •   how to get students to read (and comprehend) assignments
      •   effective writing assignments for science classes
      •   effective online discussion tactics
      •   how to get discussions to work in class
      •   maintaining control in large auditorium classes
    •    Advertise thoroughly and relentlessly
    •    DON’T give up too soon.  USM doesn’t have a culture of such workshops; an experiment like this should go on at least two years to build up interest.
  • Teaching mentors
    •    Consider a voluntary program to pair inexperienced teachers with master teachers.
      •   Solicit master teachers from the ranks of teaching award winners
      •   Invite new faculty to request a teaching mentor
      •   Pair mentors with mentees based on the results of a short survey of their needs
      •  Mentors would be paired for one semester at a time.
      •   Mentors would be expected to:

·         read and advise on syllabi

·         visit mentee’s class at least twice and provide feedback

·         discuss the grading of at least one assignment.


Mentoring for Diversity

While academia’s traditional gender imbalance is gradually evening out in many disciplines, women are still underrepresented and in some disciplines still have to fight to overcome research and teaching stereotypes.  The only mentoring available to female faculty at USM is ad hoc, if a woman is fortunate enough to find a strong role model who will work with her.  Far more alienating is the experience of underrepresented groups on campus, such as ethnic minorities and gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered scholars.

            The odds are slim that a formal mentor pairing will be able to take diversity issues into account (after all, most departments have only one or two minority faculty members, and that faculty member is unlikely to be the best pairing in terms of research interests).  Therefore, the taskforce recommends that a voluntary program be established to pair diverse junior faculty with experienced mentors who are sensitive to the diversity issues they face.  How this might work:

  •   Solicit associate and full professors from across the campuses who would be willing to serve as mentors for diversity
  •   Invite all new faculty to request a mentor with whom they can discuss ethnicity, women’s, or other gender issues if they so desire
  • Pair mentors with mentees based on the results of a short survey of their needs.

Appendix I: Mentor Guidelines

Thank you for your willingness to serve as a mentor for a junior colleague.  Transitioning from graduate school to tenure-track employment can be extremely disorienting for many people.  The environment is unfamiliar, the students are very different from those we encountered while swaddled in our Ph.D. programs, and even figuring out how the copy machine works can be a challenge for some.  Most new faculty become deeply absorbed in establishing themselves as teachers, learning their way around the community, pitching in in a variety of causes. . . but all the while the tenure clock is ticking.  Not only do other tasks absorb too much attention if we let them, but many new-minted Ph.D.s have little sense of what the next step is, how one goes from dissertation to published book with reputable press, how one sets up a lab with appropriate funding, etc.  For many, the difference between success and failure is a committed mentor.

Mentoring isn’t a full-time job or even particularly burdensome, although it is certainly a significant service to the department and the university.  Above all it is a matter of providing a resource (including matters about which the new faculty doesn’t know enough to ask) and accountability.  Perhaps the greatest factor in success is having somebody who asks about progress on a fairly regular basis.

Here are some suggestions to get started:

  •  Get acquainted with your mentee.  Take her/him out to lunch or coffee.  If your mentee is on a different campus from you, make the effort to go there, rather than expecting your mentee to come to you.
  •  Discuss research interests—not just the mentee’s but your own.  Remember that modeling successful research and publication is an important part of the mentoring process.
  • Go over your department’s tenure & promotion document as well as expectations for pre-tenure review.
  •  Work out a plan with you mentee that includes specific goals, both long- and short-term.  These goals should be reached on the basis of discussion and considering other demands on the mentee’s schedule, rather than you dictating them.  But you should definitely encourage your mentee to develop a number of specific deadlines on a trajectory that will lead to a successful pre-tenure review and beyond.  Consider writing these goals down if you are both comfortable with doing so (note that such a sheet should be kept between you and your mentor; it isn’t for departmental consumption).
  • Evaluate progress regularly and set new goals as necessary.
  •  Advise and encourage your mentee to do everything appropriate to make progress toward tenure and professional success in your discipline.  For example:
    •  advise on where to look for grant opportunities
    •  read grant proposals
    •  suggest professional organizations to join
    •  suggest when and where to give conference presentations
    •  suggest good venues for publication
    •  help your mentee as much as possible in establishing professional contacts
    •  discuss research findings, suggest revisions to manuscripts, and in general serve as an interactive sounding board.
  • Help your mentee get acquainted with other members of the department and with colleagues in other departments.
  • Discuss teaching (offer to sit in on a lecture, talk over student evaluations, give advice on syllabi, etc.).
  • Discuss what service is appropriate for a junior faculty member and how much is expected for successful pre-tenure review and tenure.
  • Serve as a resource for information about the department, the university, the community, and the profession.

 The commitment:

A formal mentoring commitment can be the start of a professional relationship that lasts for decades.  The university does not expect quite so much from you as a mentor, though.  What we do expect is:

  •   that you will commit to serving as mentor for the new faculty member through the time of her or his pre-tenure review
  •   that you will meet formally with your mentee at least once a month for specific discussion of progress toward goals, problems encountered, and so on.
  •  that you will also “drop in” occasionally in addition to formal meetings (by phone or Skype if your office is on a different campus from your mentee)
  •  that at the end of each semester you will fill out a very brief survey on your mentoring activities for the mentoring coordinator.


Appendix II: Mentee Guidelines

 The University of Southern Mississippi has established a mentoring program for all new tenure-track faculty.  Mentoring works on a very simple premise: most of us perform better if we have advice and feel like part of a community.  We also do better if we’re accountable to somebody.  To that end, the university seeks to pair junior faculty members with more senior scholars who are active scholars and teachers, who have applied for grants, who have dealt with similar issues.  That way, new faculty don’t have to reinvent the wheel and have somebody who can help provide them with a framework for success.

As part of the program, you should expect the following:

  •   your department chair will assign you a faculty mentor within your first month of employment at the university
  • your mentor will meet with you formally at least once a month, as well as informal occasions
  • your mentor will work with you to establish a reasonable research and publication schedule that, if followed, should prepare you well for pre-tenure review and tenure/promotion proceedings; to that end, the mentor should provide some accountability, including such activities as commenting on grant proposals or reading manuscripts
  • your mentor will help you grow accustomed to the teaching environment at USM with advice and discussion about teaching challenges, grading, teaching style, etc.
  • your mentor should advise you on appropriate service activities for junior faculty members
  • the mentor coordinator will check in with you once a semester to see that the mentoring relationship is alive and well and to recommend any necessary corrections
  • your mentor is your #1 resource for information and insight on how the university, the college, and the department function
  • the formal university-sponsored relationship will continue through the time of your pre-tenure review (although of course many will choose to continue after that time).

How it works:

  • You’ll start by getting acquainted with your mentor.  Find out each others’ research and teaching interests, backgrounds, etc.  This step goes together well with lunch(es) and coffee breaks.
  •   You and your mentor will go over department expectations for a successful pre-tenure review and tenure/promotion procedure.  Then, together, you will build reasonable short-term and long-term goals.  Break up big goals (e.g., “I will publish a book”) into more manageable, measurable goals (e.g., I’ll complete revisions of ch. 1 by January 10).  These goals are a private matter between you and your mentor.
  • Expect your mentor to check with you on deadlines.
  •  You and your mentor will revise your goals as necessary.
  •  Besides formal meetings, you should expect your mentor to check with you occasionally (and vice versa).
  • Your mentor should help make you acquainted with expectations in your discipline (e.g., grant resources, better publication venues, professional organizations you should join).
  •  Your mentor should help you make connections to other people in your department and elsewhere on campus and beyond.

Your responsibilities in the mentoring relationship:

  • Don’t make your mentor initiate every interaction between the two of you.  Yes, your mentor should come to you, but you should also go to her/him.
  •   Make it a two-way street.  The very best mentoring relationship is reciprocal and your mentor will probably welcome the opportunity to talk about her own research and to be accountable for goals.
  •  If you’re having a problem, take the initiative.  If you feel uncomfortable going to your department chair, go to your mentor—or go to both for advice.
  •   Mentors, like everyone else in the world, have busy times.  But if your mentor is consistently unavailable/unwilling to work for you, ask for a new mentor, either through the end-of-semester reporting system to the mentoring coordinator or through your department chair.
  • You will be asked to make a very brief report to the mentoring coordinator at the end of each semester—please do it.


 Appendix III: Pairing Mentors with Mentees: A Guide for Department Chairs

Department chairs should find an appropriate mentor for new faculty members no later than the end of September of their first year.  When pairing a mentor with a mentee, the following points should be taken into consideration:

  •   Is the mentor close enough in research specialty to be helpful to the mentee?
  •  Is the mentor an active researcher and publisher who can serve as a good role model of the successful teacher-scholar?
  • Is the mentor willing to serve?

 Two possible models for assigning a mentor, depending on size and conditions within a given department:

  1. Consult with tenured faculty members, finding out who is willing to serve and selecting the best-suited from among them.
  2.  Ask tenured faculty members if anyone is unable or unwilling to serve.  Give the list of possible mentors to the new faculty member, asking her/him to “interview” each person on the list by a given date.  Then meet with the new faculty member and decide together on who the mentor will be.

 The department chair should facilitate the first formal meeting between the mentor and the mentee.

The department chair should discuss with the mentor and the mentee (preferably together) expectations for the relationship (see appendices I and II).

Mentorship should be formally recognized as a significant part of a faculty member’s service to the department and the profession.

Oversight of the mentoring relationship will be shared between the chair of the department and the office of the provost.  The department chair can greatly assist the mentoring process in the following ways:

  • Maintain a list of departmental mentor/mentee relationships.
  •   Check occasionally that the mentor and the mentee are in fact meeting and having meaningful discussions, especially in the first year of the relationship.
  •  If it becomes clear that the mentoring relationship is not working out, assign a new mentor.
  •  Give mentoring serious consideration in annual evaluations.
  •  Do NOT ask the mentor to disclose specific information about the mentee’s progress or anything that could be construed as spying.


Appendix IV: Integrating New Faculty into the Department, some gratuitous suggestions

 Some departments do a wonderful job integrating new faculty; some departments are small enough that the process works naturally; some departments have a spottier hit-and-miss record.  Here is a checklist of matters for department chairs to consider that came out of discussions of the mentoring taskforce.

  • Give new faculty members a copy of your department’s tenure & promotion guidelines.
  •   Discuss the department’s tenure & promotion guidelines with as much specificity as possible, including “where should you be by the time of your pre-tenure review?”
  •  Within the first year (but NOT the first month!) provide concrete examples of the materials that go into review dossiers to give the new faculty member a clear roadmap of what is expected.
    • Provide a department-specific tenure & promotion workshop when appropriate
  •   Be specific about service expectations.
  •   Protect junior faculty members from excessive service expectations, and counsel them about not doing too much e.g., community outreach when they should be more focused on research.
  •   Explain, as specifically as possible, what monetary resources are available for research and conference attendance, and how the new faculty member obtains such funds.
  •   Provide an overview of departmental deadlines (e.g., for submission of book orders, turning in syllabi, requesting changes in course assignments)
  •   Supply a New Faculty Handbook
    •    Include things like handouts of the student registration process
    •    Include department syllabus guidelines
  •   Go over teaching evaluations with new faculty members


Annual Evaluations: be frank and honest; don’t say everything is fine if the person isn’t on track for a positive pre-tenure review!  In other words, don’t look just at the level of performance the department expects in a single year but at the trajectory toward tenure, and give specific advice to stay on track.

      Find ways for new faculty members to get to know the rest of the department, being especially mindful of Coast faculty.  For example:

  • Start-of-the-year party
  •   Occasional social events throughout the year
  •   Off-campus social hours
  •   Encouraged faculty attendance at receptions following lectures/performances
  •   Lunching or dining with small groups that include the new faculty member and several others in the department.