Mentoring Up – Finding your match and Making it work

Nascent Transcript Author: Honey Reddi, PhD, FACMG. Conceptually “Mentoring up” is about empowering mentees to be active participants in their mentoring relationships by understanding that the responsibility for success requires equal contributions from both the mentor and the mentee.

The ASHG Career Development committee as part of its annual meeting organized a session on this topic.  The session provided an overview of the concept of “mentoring up”, identifying factors that lead to a positive and productive mentoring relationship, and shared tools and strategies to build a strong and professional mentor-mentee relationship. The keynote presentation was by Dr. Sharon L. Milgram, the Director of NIH Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE), on “Managing Up to Maximize Mentoring Relationships” followed by an interactive discussion with individuals at different career stages on mentoring up, including informative feedback that the mentor has received and successful tools that mentees have used to enhance their mentoring relationship.

Multiple mentors are the key to fulfillment of one’s goals: In her thought-provoking presentation, Dr. Milgram emphasized that mentoring is a life-long need and not just a requirement in the early stages of a particular journey or career path. When one talks about a mentor it is important to understand the attributes associated with a mentor and not confuse them with a supervisor/coach or advocate. While these roles also hold significance in one’s career, distinguishing the roles is important for the success of a mentor-mentee relationship. The need for multiple mentors across various areas of professional growth, psychosocial support and technical expertise was also emphasized as multiple perspectives often drives creative solutions. No one individual can address all the needs a mentee has and therefore one must focus on expanding their mentoring network for success in their goals.

Finding the right mentor: Identifying a mentor who matches your needs is key to an effective relationship. Dr. Milgram recommended asking oneself 4 questions as we look for a mentor; 1) what do I need guidance about?; 2) do me and the potential mentor connect?; 3) do I get the right balance of positive input and hard questions?; and 4) is the individual I chose as a mentor going to have time for me? These four pertinent questions will help shape the future of a mentor-mentee relationship. However, picking the right individual based on these questions alone are not sufficient to sustain the relationship. One needs to set expectations, establish boundaries, determine equal contribution and ultimately find a balance that benefits both the mentor and mentee. Dr. Milgram also shared some pointers to address challenges in mentoring relationships; self-awareness, emotional regulation, assertiveness skills, support within an organization, wellness and resilience skills. For example – having a frank discussion with your mentor to express issues, expectations in a pragmatic manner rather than emotionally driven.

Expectations of a mentee: The panel discussion post-presentation included feedback from individuals in early career stages, graduate students Casey Thornton and  Oscar Rodriguez; and their expectations from mentors. Feelings that resonated with the group included honest communication, setting clear objectives, receptiveness and commitment to the process. Mentees may not always know the kind of mentor they are looking for and self-awareness is important to find the right match

Expectations of a mentor: The panelists also included experienced mentors, individuals in advanced career stages, Josée Dupuis and Justin Wade Davis. Their perspective mirrored most of the mentee expectations with a few additions such as mutual respect and self-evaluation. The level of mentoring an individual needs/wants can vary from support and guidance in challenging situations, push and drive to get to the next step, or just having an ear to bounce ideas off of. A mentor needs to be able to evaluate the needs of a mentee in the context of where mentoring is needed or expected. An individual may be the brightest technically, but socially awkward and that is where they are looking for a social mentor.

My thoughts as a mentee/mentor: I echo Dr. Milgram’s sentiment that mentoring is a life-long experience. One assumes that as you move out of graduate school, into your post-doc, take on your first faculty position, you no longer need a mentor. That is where mistakes are made. Even as the Chief of my program, with aspirations to continue to grow, I know that I need mentors to guide me into the next role, because I do not know what lies ahead of me in that particular path. As a mentor/mentee, I have given and asked for advice, provided and requested guidance and helped or reached out as needed. No matter the years, the challenge remains in setting expectations and maintaining equilibrium across both roles, as experience has taught me that the key ingredient in a mentor-mentee relationship is equalizing contributions. It is not just the responsibility of the mentor to drive the relationship but rather on the mentee as well to ensure both derive the most from the relationship. Setting expectations, managing responsibilities and mentoring up are important for success.

Recommended Resources (courtesy of Dr. Milgram):

  2. Resources for choosing a PI:
  3. Resilience Series:
  4. Mental Health Series:



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