The following post is adapted from my personal academic coursework.
Richardson compared the role of a mentor for doctoral students to that of a tour guide—one who excels at “making the journey more enjoyable, or at least comfortable.” Furman traced the history of mentoring relationships from Biblical accounts and the ancient Greeks, through the Middle Ages, throughout the 20th century, and into modernity. However, Furman noted that although mentoring has become more “fractionalized” in recent years, the term still “implies a more expansive and longer interest in the life of the mentee” than what is found in similar roles limited to merely passing on information. Zhou et al. further discussed this expansive role in describing the phases of mentorship as “initiation (i.e., the mentoring relationship forms), cultivation (i.e., the mentor provides guidance and learning opportunities to the mentee), separation (i.e., the mentor’s support becomes secondary, and the mentee acts more independently), and redefinition (i.e., the mentoring relationship ends and becomes a peer-like relationship).” Zhou et al. also pointed out that mentoring “is affected by the broader social context in which it occurs” and that “some aspects of mentoring… …may be culture-specific.”
Considering this research, doctoral students seeking a mentor should be mindful of each of these dimensions of the mentoring relationship. This is not a relationship which one should enter blithely, but considering the length and depth of the relationship, it is important to choose a mentor with enough social and cultural compatibility to be helpful and with the right experience to be beneficial. That experience may lie in overcoming one’s present challenges or in attaining one’s future goals, but a mentor who does not understand where the mentee is coming from or going to is of limited value as a “tour guide.” Richardson shared many of these recommendations, but also included identifying desired “attributes, knowledge, and skills” of potential mentors and advised mentees to find a mentor “who truly loves [his or her] work.” An additional consideration when selecting a mentor is his or her moral and spiritual background. The Apostle Paul admonished Christians not to be “yoked together with unbelievers” in 2 Corinthians 6:14 (NKJV).
Once the doctoral student knows what he or she is seeking in a mentor—social and cultural compatibility; helpful experiences; desired attributes, knowledge, and skills; passion for the work; and a strong moral and spiritual example—he or she needs to know where to look for a mentor. Personally, this is my greatest challenge. I know of no other person who shares my career intentions nor am I acquainted with anyone else in the Organizational Leadership program. However, I need to start somewhere. I have some former teachers and professors in the local area who have earned doctoral degrees and who would probably be willing to help me find a qualified mentor or possibly even agree to mentor me. This is where my mentor search will begin.
After finding a mentor, he or she can help me achieve my academic and career goals through answering my questions, asking me questions, clarifying my thinking by helping me expand or narrow my focus as necessary, encouraging me to consider new possibilities outside of my comfort zone, helping me keep my priorities in order, holding me accountable, and offering additional advice and guidance as necessary. With many of us, the terminal degree may mark the end of our academic journeys, but our careers and lives will continue beyond graduation and those who have gone before us can help guide us through the unknowns that await us in the future. I think that this mentoring relationship will grow with us and will become as described by an old Chinese proverb included by Zhou et al.: “Once a teacher, always a father figure.”
Furman, P. M. (2016). The Baby Boomers’ perception of mentoring: A phenomenonlogical study (Order No. 10100816) [Doctoral dissertation, Capella University]. ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
Holy Bible, New King James Version. (2020). Thomas Nelson (Original work published 1982).
Richardson, E. (2016, October 3). Where’s the tour guide? Selecting a mentor… Erick R. Richardson, PhD. https://www.ericrichardsonphd.com/single-post/2016/10/03/wheres-the-tour-guide-selecting-a-mentor
Zhou, A. J., Lapointe, É., & Zhou, S. S. (2019). Understanding mentoring relationships in China: Towards a Confucian model. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 36(2), 415-444. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10490-018-9589-5