futureapppsy2

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I've been fortunate in that I've had good mentors throughout my career, but it's usually been somewhat transactional in that I could provide something to them in exchange for their time and energy (leading a study, leading manuscripts, leading or helping with a grant app, etc)--probably not an equal exchange but not entirely one-sided. Now, I have a mentor who needs absolutely nothing I can offer, and it's... sort of uncomfortable? She's a prominent academic at an R1 who I met years ago when she co-PI'd the first major grant-funded project I worked on (as a lowly undergrad RA), something we've gone back to throughout the years with various data analyses, articles, etc (massive project with a huge fund of articles in the methodology alone). I've recently gotten close to her as a mentor now that I'm tenure-track at an R1, and she's been super, super helpful in understanding the nuances of that game. She's also incredibly busy--editor of a journal, has 5-10 active formal mentees on K awards plus probably double that in more informal mentees, PI'ing several active grants, including a new R01, etc. I keep going to her for advice because she's incredibly helpful, responsive, and just genuinely a really good, kind person and outstanding academic, but I feel bad because I ask for a lot of her time and provide her no benefit--she doesn't need manuscripts or articles or really, anything I can offer. In fact, I recently asked her if she wanted to co-author a manuscript based in part on the study she co-PI'd (along with the other study personnel), and her response felt kind of like I was forcing her into it ("well, I don't want to and I'm too busy but I'll do it anyway because I want to support you").

How do you be a good mentee when you can do basically no stuff of value for your mentor?
 

ClinicalABA

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Have you expressed this concern to her? I think being forthright is great quality of a mentee. Maybe also present her with an outline of your own professional development plan, highlighting what you are expecting from your relationship. This could also be sign that you don't need a mentor as much, or at least as much active involvement. IIRC, you are pretty productive with your own research and publishing. Maybe you need her to be more of a "peer consultant" than a traditional mentor.
 
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szymk1sm

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I was recently introduced to the term "sponsor" and I wonder if this person has transitioned from the role of mentor to sponsor?
 
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futureapppsy2

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Have you expressed this concern to her? I think being forthright is great quality of a mentee. Maybe also present her with an outline of your own professional development plan, highlighting what you are expecting from your relationship. This could also be sign that you don't need a mentor as much, or at least as much active involvement. IIRC, you are pretty productive with your own research and publishing. Maybe you need her to be more of a "peer consultant" than a traditional mentor.
Yep, I've asked her if there's anything I can do to pay her back, and she says "just pay it forward--be a good mentor to your students and mentees." She does a lot of talking to me about work/life balance, taking breaks/vacation/leave, and just actually encouraging me to work less, more than anything. I think at least one of the reasons she's interested in mentoring me is that I'm from an under-represented group she feels passionate about and wants to see more good researchers from this group in the field. But it's just like... she gets absolutely nothing out of this except more work, and she doesn't need more work.

I was recently introduced to the term "sponsor" and I wonder if this person has transitioned from the role of mentor to sponsor?
I'm curious how "sponsor" was defined versus "mentor"?
 
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ClinicalABA

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I think at least one of the reasons she's interested in mentoring me is that I'm from an under-represented group she feels passionate about and wants to see more good researchers from this group in the field. But it's just like... she gets absolutely nothing out of this
Do you not see the disparity between the first sentence above and the second? You have "paid" her plenty.
 
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Spydra

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I'm curious how "sponsor" was defined versus "mentor"?
I've heard the term sponsor used to mean someone who actually throws your hat in the ring for opportunities. The context I've heard it in is usually a marginalized person who is consistently overlooked, despite being talented, capable, etc and then someone in a position of power drops their name for an opportunity......"Have you consider Jane Smith to head that project? She's done xyz and would be a great fit." I suppose a mentor could fulfill that role, but frequently that doesn't happen for marginalized persons. The mentor is frequently just someone who offers advice, but won't actually take action to help you.
 
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futureapppsy2

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Perhaps you are overthinking things. I mentor students and junior faculty because I enjoy it and I love to see the amazing things that they go on to do with their careers. I have no expectation of getting anything in return.
Do you not see the disparity between the first sentence above and the second? You have "paid" her plenty.
Interesting points--thanks. I guess that I'm so used to transactional mentor relationships that a non-transactional one feels a bit like free-loading to me. Like, I reached out to faculty member at another institution in grad school to get mentorship on an area that I wanted to do research in but that my department didn't have anyone with expertise in. He ended up mentoring me on a project that I PI'd that generated 5 pubs, but he also got to be co-author on those, plus another 8 pubs for another project that I wanted his mentorship/expertise on, so it was still very much "mentor me, please--and you'll get something tangible from this." I'm very productive--perhaps unusually productive--so often the deal is--implicitly or explicitly--that "if you mentor me, I'll reinforce that with lots of publications and/or occasionally grant applications."

I think that having gotten my PhD at an R2 where I was, in complete honesty, more productive than a lot of the faculty, also built up some weird contingencies about mentoring that now, as a faculty member myself, I see are kind of screwed up. For example, there was a lot of implicit pressure that I had to produce enough publications with this one faculty member and if he didn't get tenure, it would be on me. Looking at it now, that's kind of screwed up and inappropriate. If my mentees get publications that I co-author, it helping my CV is a great bonus, but it's not their job to make my dossier tenurable.

I've heard the term sponsor used to mean someone who actually throws your hat in the ring for opportunities. The context I've heard it in is usually a marginalized person who is consistently overlooked, despite being talented, capable, etc and then someone in a position of power drops their name for an opportunity......"Have you consider Jane Smith to head that project? She's done xyz and would be a great fit." I suppose a mentor could fulfill that role, but frequently that doesn't happen for marginalized persons. The mentor is frequently just someone who offers advice, but won't actually take action to help you.
This is interesting to me, thanks. Honestly, the advice giving part is usually what I find most helpful--just having a group of people that I can email/call to ask "how do I address this in my dossier?" or "can you give me a quick read of this R&R decision letter and tell me if you think it's worth doing?" or "I got this feedback from my dean. Thoughts?" etc. That's the type of stuff I find myself using mentors for most of all.
 
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albatross_at_crossroads

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Interesting points--thanks. I guess that I'm so used to transactional mentor relationships that a non-transactional one feels a bit like free-loading to me. Like, I reached out to faculty member at another institution in grad school to get mentorship on an area that I wanted to do research in but that my department didn't have anyone with expertise in. He ended up mentoring me on a project that I PI'd that generated 5 pubs, but he also got to be co-author on those, plus another 8 pubs for another project that I wanted his mentorship/expertise on, so it was still very much "mentor me, please--and you'll get something tangible from this." I'm very productive--perhaps unusually productive--so often the deal is--implicitly or explicitly--that "if you mentor me, I'll reinforce that with lots of publications and/or occasionally grant applications."

I think that having gotten my PhD at an R2 where I was, in complete honesty, more productive than a lot of the faculty, also built up some weird contingencies about mentoring that now, as a faculty member myself, I see are kind of screwed up. For example, there was a lot of implicit pressure that I had to produce enough publications with this one faculty member and if he didn't get tenure, it would be on me. Looking at it now, that's kind of screwed up and inappropriate. If my mentees get publications that I co-author, it helping my CV is a great bonus, but it's not their job to make my dossier tenurable.



This is interesting to me, thanks. Honestly, the advice giving part is usually what I find most helpful--just having a group of people that I can email/call to ask "how do I address this in my dossier?" or "can you give me a quick read of this R&R decision letter and tell me if you think it's worth doing?" or "I got this feedback from my dean. Thoughts?" etc. That's the type of stuff I find myself using mentors for most of all.
Perhaps you are overthinking things. I mentor students and junior faculty because I enjoy it and I love to see the amazing things that they go on to do with their careers. I have no expectation of getting anything in return.
I would like to offer a different perspective here. In the world outside of academia, sometimes high potential early career people get a mentor that does just that - supports the less experienced person with their development and there is no expectation of anything in return.
Sometimes employees are "pushed" into a mentoring relationship by executives or even HR due to varying circumstances, but I've seen a lot of these relationships that work well and have been beneficial to both parties.

beantownpsych has a good point that usually mentors do this because they enjoy it and they have no other expectation in return, even if they are quite busy professionals themselves.

I realize that in academia things might seem a bit more transactional, but they don't have to be. I say thank this person for her advice, acknowledge her in some symbolic fashion if you like, but be more attuned to how you can find opportunities to give back to others - maybe you can be a mentor for a younger psychologist/ student who could really use your perspective. This sounds like it would be much more rewarding to your mentor than just having her name on a few papers.

P.S. I've been removed from academia from quite some time (trying to get back in) and have some experience in the corporate world. Your post made me squirm a little when you mentioned the pressure of publishing just to bolster a faculty member's CV. I personally believe that healthy mentorship relationships should be based on more than just "what you can do for the other person". Maybe we can change this, and be the change we want to see in the world :)
 
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ClinicalABA

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Interesting points--thanks. I guess that I'm so used to transactional mentor relationships that a non-transactional one feels a bit like free-loading to me.
Also don't underestimate the value of having someone to ask you questions. Mentees encourage the mentors (at least the good ones) to stay on top of top of their game, know what's going on, and improve their own skill set so as to be able to offer value to the mentee. From a behavioral perspective, why would this mentor continue to display mentorship behavior if it wasn't being reinforced somehow? It's probably not superstition, long extinction burst, or other non-currently reinforced behavior. Maybe it's negative reinforcement (e.g., avoiding the aversiveness of ending the relationship), but something tells me that's not the case.
 
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Ollie123

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Agree with the above. Sounds like your past mentoring relationships have been...weird. Don't assume it is always as transactional as it sounds like it has been for you. I think a part of being a good mentee is just respecting the mentor and that includes their capacity to set appropriate boundaries. They may be mentoring you just for the warm fuzzies they get from mentoring people and nothing more. Nothing at all wrong with that. My goodness do we need more of that in academia. I'd continue intermittently offering opportunities while making it clear it is up to them if they are involved. Try not to be annoying. Then just enjoy the fact that you have a healthy academic relationship with someone:)
 
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foreverbull

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It sounds like having a mentor who is genuinely happy to see you succeed professionally without something practical in return is a new experience. And perhaps unfortunate that this is the first time this has been the case for you, which is not uncommon in academia where transactional exchanges stem from the “publish or perish” pressure on both sides.

Some mentors just really enjoy sharing their knowledge and expertise for the betterment of mentees’ lives and because all of us recognize that knowledge is power and sharing it can empower others. Mentoring and offering advice to others in different ways can be intrinsically rewarding for some. For me, it has resulted in some unexpected positive experiences that I didn’t purposely seek out, and it’s also just exciting to hear when former students/mentees get into the program they wanted, etc. I have seen others pay it forward and pay it back and it is a great feeling in and of itself.

If your mentor feels this way, my suggestion is just to express your heartfelt gratitude to her and pay it forward, just like she advised!
 
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Yeah so I do a lot of mentoring of grad students, honors students, etc. and I like being a resource for new faculty as well. I put that generally in the realm of "training" (which also includes supervision and other types of clinical admin). I don't "get" anything tangible out of it much of the time (even with my own students, but that's another conversation for another day) but I still enjoy it--being involved in the training of future psychologists is meaningful to me. Mentoring, interacting with other people, providing my opinion, is a really useful complement to the other parts of my job. With research, everything has to be cited and "backed up" but with mentoring, I can just say what I think. It's refreshing. I also find mentoring conversations helpful to me because I learn things sometimes. I learn what I do and don't know, and my mentees often spark thoughts I couldn't have on my own. I really like training, maybe your mentor does too?
 

erg923

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I have been a formal mentor to a couple folks within the past 3 years I suppose (one a rather novice graduate student and the others licensed psychologist and psychiatrist entering the managed care world). I have not really expected them to give anything specific back to me other than the fact that by teaching, guiding, and advising we inevitably learn things from the people we mentor. I don't really expect them to know or care about the specifics of this much.
 
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Spydra

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This is interesting to me, thanks. Honestly, the advice giving part is usually what I find most helpful--just having a group of people that I can email/call to ask "how do I address this in my dossier?" or "can you give me a quick read of this R&R decision letter and tell me if you think it's worth doing?" or "I got this feedback from my dean. Thoughts?" etc. That's the type of stuff I find myself using mentors for most of all.
From my experience and observations for marginalized persons the advice skews not helpful. There are even times when it is deliberately false. I am curious how much this will evolve with all the calls for equity in academia now.
 

futureapppsy2

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From my experience and observations for marginalized persons the advice skews not helpful. There are even times when it is deliberately false. I am curious how much this will evolve with all the calls for equity in academia now.
Interesting. I am multiply and visibly marginalized, and my mentors all know this. Did run into some issues when I had a mentor who was the most privileged dude in the world, though (White, straight, male, cis, son of a multimillionaire, etc). I've struggled more with poor advice from people at non-R1s, including my PhD program.
 
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ClinicalABA

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From my experience and observations for marginalized persons the advice skews not helpful. There are even times when it is deliberately false. I am curious how much this will evolve with all the calls for equity in academia now.
Has it been your experience that this is intentional or due to ignorance (and I recognize that ignorance is often intentional, but i think you can see the distinction I am trying to make)? If intentional, any thoughts on potential motivation?
 

Spydra

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Interesting. I am multiply and visibly marginalized, and my mentors all know this. Did run into some issues when I had a mentor who was the most privileged dude in the world, though (White, straight, male, cis, son of a multimillionaire, etc). I've struggled more with poor advice from people at non-R1s, including my PhD program.
I am not at an R1 and it is plausible that is a factor in my experience.

Has it been your experience that this is intentional or due to ignorance (and I recognize that ignorance is often intentional, but i think you can see the distinction I am trying to make)? If intentional, any thoughts on potential motivation?
It is absolutely intentional and not at all motivated by ignorance. The motivation, politely speaking, is the desire for sameness.
 
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