This section describes how lessons learned from studies of the mentoring relationship can be used to improve both the quality of the relationship and ultimately the responsible conduct of research education. While some of the reviewed studies investigated the trainee/mentor relationship from non-research settings, the findings are nevertheless relevant to efforts aimed at improving the research trainee/mentor relationship. The topics that are found to be beneficial include:
- Evaluation and assessment of mentoring relationship
- Institutional support of mentoring
- Conducive work environment
- Compatible relationship
- Investment in the development of a younger generation of researchers
- Maintenance of flexibility
- Maintenance of a high level of communication between trainee and mentor
- Value of keeping priorities clear
Evaluation and assessment of mentoring relationship
A number of investigators have utilized or developed instruments seeking to measure aspects of the mentoring relationship proposed to have a positive influence. Examples of these instruments include:
- Mentor Efficacy Scale, measuring four skill dimensions;
- Measuring Mentor Potential, a predictive instrument for clear criteria in the selection process for potential mentors;
- Mentorship Profile Questionnaire, describing the characteristics and outcome measures of the mentoring relationship from the perspective of the trainee, and the Mentor Effectiveness Scale which evaluates the twelve behavioral characteristics of the mentor;
- Relational Health Index which measures qualities of the mentoring including empathy, engagement, authenticity, and empowerment. (Berk, Berg, Mortimer, Walton-Moss, Yeo, 2005; Tracy, Taylor, and Williams, 2002; Andrews and Chilton, 2000; Liange; Riggs, 1997).
The following research findings reveal a number of characteristics of the mentoring relationship that demonstrate a beneficial impact to trainees:
- students with mentors who they perceived as being more active in their support, had a greater sense of integration with their medical school environment
- students who were exposed to faculty serving in the role as a 'coach' rather than lecturer, help students better acquire skills in the interpretation of experimental data
- mentoring new graduates during the orientation period helped recent nursing graduate's better handle stress in a clinical setting
- nurse managers could develop leadership skills in a consistent and systematic manner when mentored instead of relying on informal strategies, which may be fragmented and random in nature
- incorporated mentoring as one aspect of a Maternal Child Health (MCH) Certificate program focused on enhancing the quality of MCH services
- intervention participants (clinicians and public health professionals) reported an expansion of core public health knowledge, enhanced self-confidence, and efficacy. Following training, approximately 50% reported job changes with requirements for increased responsibility, leadership, and professional advancement
- Results of a study of doctoral students in counselor education programs revealed that a key determinant in a student's attrition or persistence decisions was a match between the students ' goals/expectations and the faculty members' expectations and goals for the program. This finding supports the value of trainees and mentors clearly delineating and agreeing upon expectations and goals at the beginning of the training process. (Tekian, 2000; Kitchen, Bell , Reeve, Sudweeks, Bradshaw, 2003; Oermann and Garvin, 2002; Moran, Duffield, Beutel, Bunt, Thornton , Wills, Cahill, Franks, 2002; Bernstein, Paine, Smith, and Galblum, 2001; Hoskins and Goldberg, 2005).
Institutional support of mentoring
Key to the success of any mentoring program is institutional buy-in from administration. Institutional support may take the form of recognized and well publicized policies that encourage established, qualified researchers to make an investment in the quality of the next generation of researchers, as well as promoting the use of mentors among research trainees as a viable way to better learn a discipline. Evidence of institutional commitment for mentoring includes the establishment of an infrastructure seeking to enhance the trainee/mentor relationship through implementation of effective mentor training programs, having a system of rewards and recognition for mentors, providing mentors with enough time for mentoring, having a method in place that can identify and address barriers, and incorporating a system of accountability (NIH 2000, National Academy of Science; Macrina, 2000; Steneck, Zinn, 2003; Tenner, 2004).
Conducive work environment
A conducive work environment is one that promotes the health and safety of trainees and staff and is devoid of physical or psychological threats to well-being. Ensuring the quality of the work environment requires that mentors regularly monitor and be prepared to address threats made by and against trainees. These threats could be in the form of intimidation, sexual harassment, or any disagreement serious enough that it compromises the integrity of research being conducted. Trainees should feel comfortable enough in their work environment to report any compromising activity to either a mentor or another appropriate supervisor.
Compatibility issues refer to a shared group of agreements between trainees/mentors regarding style of interaction/management, harmonious personalities, and expectations. Conflicts or disagreements in any of these areas can hinder the relationship and make progress for the trainee all but impossible. Both parties must respect each other's other research obligations and demands, and have a commitment to maximizing the available time together and follow-through on assignments. Trainees and mentors must maintain a high degree of confidentiality based on trust that is cultured and earned. Both parties are better served by identifying incompatibility issues early in the relationship and deciding on a solution that requires one or both to modify behavior, or seek a more suitable partnership with another.
Investment in the development of a younger generation of researchers
Senior researchers who have attained a certain degree of status by making contributions in their research fields may sense a moral responsibility to promote the continued integrity of their disciplines. Many of these researchers understand that working with trainees provides opportunities to ensure a high caliber transfer of knowledge and skills along with the needed socialization into the field that unsupervised, might be fragmented, inconsistent, and perilous. This socialization would also include inculcating trainees with the values and ethical perspectives essential to the responsible conduct of research. In addition, mentors might end up passing the legacy of their own research agenda on to a new group of researchers interested i n applying innovative approaches that advance the field.
Mentors should realize that while many trainees undergo stressful episodes during training period, not everyone has an equal ability to cope. Mentors who are familiar with the capabilities of their trainees are in a better position to offer assistance or refer those experiencing difficulties to qualified professionals. Mentors must balance their obligations to provide trainees with an optimal training experience while at the same time remaining understanding, empathetic, and flexible dealing with trainees' needs. Trainees must also demonstrate flexibility by adjusting their priorities in order to accommodate deadlines, a fact of life in a research environment.
Maintain high level of communication with all parties
Open lines of communication can address developing problems at a stage early enough to be useful. For example, trainees having difficulty implementing research protocols can ask for assistance before data collection is compromised. Mentors can be forthright and firm when correcting violations of protocol, thus instilling the value of research integrity.
Keep priorities clear
While establishing priorities in the MOU is one of the initial activities between trainee and mentor, keeping the priorities clear is an ongoing and evolving process. Because the training progress of trainees is developmental in nature, revisions to the priorities originally set may need to be discussed and implemented. This can occur with greater harmony when trainees and mentors are both flexible and exhibit good communication skills.
This section offered strategies to enhance the mentoring relationship. While the value of mentoring has been discussed as a way to create powerful learning experiences and reduce the learning curve for research trainees, it is not suggested that mentoring be utilized in training research trainees to the exclusion of other instructional strategies. Nor is it suggested that mentoring should always occurs between two parties.
Rather, the recommendation is that mentoring, delivered in a way that maximizes the interaction between mentors (with their unique skills and attributes) and trainees (with their specific needs and research interests), be integrated with other beneficial instructional strategies.
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