Mentorship: What’s Your Flavor?

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Picture of Danya Khoujah
Danya Khoujah

The Pre-brief

Mentorship is an essential tool for professional and personal growth for both mentors and mentees. Yet, this elusive relationship may be viewed as an energy drain or a cause of frustration for many. Delineating the goal of the relationship may help obviate unnecessary conflict and optimize the time invested in it.

Mentorship is a development approach used to enhance an individual’s skills, knowledge, or performance. It is an essential element of professional advancement, personal fulfillment, and job satisfaction. No matter the stage of our career, we play both parts of the relationship with other individuals; being mentors and mentees. Mentorship comes in many archetypes and scopes, which we tend to lump under the same umbrella.

  • Mentorship: focuses on professional development as a whole, such as succeeding in the various roles of that profession (research, service, clinical work), balancing these roles with each other, and juggling it all with personal life. This is the classic image of what we think of as an all-encompassing mentor, or “sensei”. Typically, the “mentor” is a more senior, wiser individual, but may also be a peer.
  • Coaching: focuses on a specific set of skills and goals, rather than an overall approach to professional development. Examples include coaching to improve research productivity or public speaking skills. It may be time-defined or ongoing. The “coach” is an expert at the topic at hand.
  • Advising: focuses on a particular project, rather than an overall skill. Examples include advising on a specific academic project (e.g. speaking at X conference) or a situation (e.g. asking for a promotion). It is usually time defined. The “advisor” should be an expert at the topic at hand.
  • Sponsorship: focuses on recommending individuals for a position or award and vouching for them. The “sponsor” puts their own reputation on the line.

·  Connecting: focuses on facilitating connections with other individuals who can serve in any of the prior roles and/or other professional distinctions. The “connector” in this relationship does not have to be an expert at the topic at hand but rather a master networker.

Why is this important? 

Whether we choose to use the “correct” terminology or not, what’s more, significant is clarifying the desired goal of the relationship (or that particular phase of it). When two people have different expectations of a relationship, this is bound to create miscommunication and unmet needs.

The Debrief

  • Whether you’re a mentor or a mentee, ask the question: what is the goal of this relationship?
  • Be clear about the goals of the mentoring relationship: all-encompassing mentorship, coaching, advising, sponsorship, or connecting.


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