Roles in Mentoring

Mentoring as a joint flight

Your mentoring relationship is like a journey that you are taking together.

Imagine being in a helicopter to discover what’s below.

The mentee will be taking the pilot seat.

  • The mentee’s role is to determine the travel route.
  • The mentee’s questions and goals determine what you will discover together. If we stay in the picture: which fields and woods and lakes and towns you will go to have a look at.

The mentor, on the other hand, is the person who accompanies the journey.

  • Mentors are there to share their observations. Having seen some of the scenery before or being reminded of scenery that they have seen before, a mentor has a different perspective about what is there to see. So when a mentee decides to fly over the muddy area of having a family in academia, the mentor might have visited that swamp before and point to details in it that the mentee has not seen yet. Together, they will chart that territory.
  • The mentor may also suggest looking at something else or exploring something in more detail. For instance, they could suggest to head on over to the country of full professorship while the mentee wanted to spend the entire flight looking at the island of a tenured researcher position. Whether this will happen remains the mentee’s choice and responsibility.

The journey is about the mentee learning and experiencing this “world below”. The mentor might have a better map of the area, but only the mentee knows what they are interested in. Mentoring requires openness from both sides: The flight is best if the mentee is open for the mentor’s suggestions and if the mentor agrees to discover what the mentee sees.


Accordingly, the mentee is the engine of the relationship.

📜 The mentees are responsible for the organisations of the meetings, including agendas and summary reports.

🎯 At the beginning of the mentoring, mentees should develop and set goals. These goals serve as a guideline to any activity you undertake together. Of course they may change over time. Your goals will change a simple exchange of biographical experience into something that actually helps you find your way.

The mentors have two main tasks:

  1. They provide the courage that is sometimes necessary to pursue ambitious goals. They provide the feedback and – often positive – reality check that is needed to focus on the right goals.
  2. They support mentees in developing strategies to reach the goals. Developing and carrying out such strategies may be made much easier by what many mentees hope to discuss with their mentors: Explaining informal rules of the game, providing insight into their everyday work life and maybe introducing to others from the mentor’s network.

To provide an example, let’s say a mentee wants to decide whether to pursue an academic career or move into research in industry. Her goal is to make a decision during the next ten months and send out first applications before the end of the mentoring programme. Although her mentor works at a research institute, her network expands into industry. Mentee and mentor agree at their first meeting that the mentee would benefit from interviewing a former colleague of her mentor and a project partner who work in industry. Later, she might decide to job shadow one of them. She would use the meetings with her mentor to reflect the interviews and compare them with her prospects in academia.

Photo: Unsplash

Thanks go to EAF.Berlin for introducing me to the imagery of the helicopter flight.

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