Differentiating the Academy: Mentors vs. Advisors

Based on our discussion during the first part of class, I felt compelled to focus this week’s blog post on mentoring — a subject that is near and dear to my heart — and the focus of much of my early research. There are various types of mentoring and mentoring can be done several different ways. There does not seem to be a definitive definition of mentoring, and this ambiguity is why I believe the word is so loosely thrown around and the concept is somewhat devalued in some cases. Some scholars define mentoring as an intentional process involving interaction between two or more individuals. Other scholars define the concept as a form of professional socialization wherein a more experienced individual acts as a guide, role model, teacher, and patron of a less experienced protégé. Certain scholars describe the mentor as someone in a position of power who gives advice or brings a protégé’s accomplishments to the attention of those who have power. All these definitions and descriptions contain some truth, but I define mentoring slightly different. I define mentoring as “providing sincere support and encouragement to others without any ulterior motives at all”. I strongly believe that sincere support and encouragement creates a vested interest in a mentee, which takes the relationship to the next level.

Where did “mentoring” originate?

Mentoring is a method that dates back to days of the ancient Greeks; the term is specifically connected to Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey. In the novel, Odysseus left to fight the Trojan War, and left the care of his family to Mentor, who taught and was the overseer to Odysseus’s son. Mentoring can be applied to various situations and settings, including education.

Mentee vs. Advisee

Reflecting back on our discussion, I believe there is a difference between graduate students who are advised and graduate students who are mentored. The relationship between an advisor and an advisee is somewhat surface level. The advisor provides some emotional support and enhanced interaction, the advisee’s perceptions are heard, general career guidance is provided on what matters, and advisor-advisee contact is flexible. Conversely, the relationship between a mentor (faculty) and a mentee (graduate student) looks very different. The mentor provides extensive one-on-one guidance, the relationship is designed to prepare the mentee for a career, and the relationship itself is intensive and the mentor is personally invested in the mentee’s career/life success.

Both, advisors and mentors are needed in all capacities, but I feel it is important to differentiate the terms. Moving forward, if mentoring is going to be mechanism used to help individuals at all critical moments of life, then it should not be used so ubiquitously.

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