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10 Myths

  1. The mentor should be older than the person being mentored. This myth assumes that the relationship is determined in large part by a difference in ages of participants, rather than by other factors such as experience and interpersonal skills. A person doesn't have to be middle-aged or older to be a good mentor to someone else. Also, older people, whether they are returning students or already established in careers, may also need mentoring.
  2. A person can have only one mentor at a time. Having multiple mentors and a variety of social networks expands a person's ability to develop allies and alliances. Relying on several people also means that the mentoring functions can be split up. For example, one person might be good at providing informal advice about the institution; another might provide better insights and information about jobs in a particular field. Acknowledging the need to rely on several people can help avoid a futile search for the "perfect" mentor.
  3. Mentoring is all for the benefit of the mentee. Mentoring is a two-way street. Mentors receive some benefits, too, such as earning a reputation for spotting new talent...the person being mentored can provide fresh insights and information about new problems or programs with which the mentor may be unfamiliar.
  4. If you are seeking a mentor, you have to wait to be asked. Unlike an old-fashioned dance, women do not have to wait passively for a senior person to notice their achievements and choose to help them. By actively seeking mentors, women can make themselves more visible as up-and-comers in a profession.
  5. Men are better mentors for women. This is partially true, to the extent that men are more likely to be powerful people and thus able to open more doors. But at least one study has shown that male mentors were more likely to direct their mentees and therefore to be disappointed if they did not follow advice. The study found, in contrast, that female mentors were more likely to encourage and affirm their mentees' career choices; they apparently had less emotional investment in having their mentees follow in their footsteps.
  6. The mentor always knows best. Mentors are human like the rest of us and may make mistakes or deliberately exploit the mentee. A mentor may misperceive the mentees potential and set goals that are too high or too low. As the mentee grows and develops professional stature, the mentor may find it difficult to let go or to move to a more collegial relationship, thus increasing the likelihood that the mentee development will be stifled or that breach will occur.
  7. Mentors have to fulfill every possible role of a mentor. Refer to no. 2. You do not have to fulfill every possible function of a mentor to be effective, but let your mentees know where you are willing to help and what kind of information or support you can give that you believe will be particularly helpful. Be clear about whether you are willing to give advice on personal issues, such as suggestions about how to balance family and career responsibilities.
  8. Criticism is never a good idea in a mentor-men tee relationship. On the contrary, be sure to give criticism, as well as praise, when warranted, but present it with specific suggestions for improvement. Do it in a private and non-threatening context. Giving criticism in the form of a question can be helpful, as in, "How would your research look if you examined economic issues ... ?"
  9. Women, people of color, ethnicities, lifestyles and religion will only want to work with someone of the same background. Be willing to provide support for people different from yourself. Some suggest it is far easier for women than men to cross boundaries such as race, color, ethnicity, class and religion in working with others. But we all need to practice this skill and avoid the temptation to assist only those with whom we feel the most comfortable, those who are the closest to being clones of ourselves.
  10. You don't have time. Make no mistake a about it, mentoring is a deliberative act. Bottom line is that effective mentors find and make time to develop relationships with junior faculty. Being a good mentor is not only measured in the amount of time spent with mentee, the quality of time spent is just as important and impactful.
1 (1-9) Taken from Sandler, B. 1993. Women as Mentors: Myths and Commandments. Chronicle of Higher Education. March 10, 1993.