What’s a Mentor/ee to Do?

Recently, a colleague reached out to me for advice on how to get started in a mentoring relationship. He had been asked to mentor a junior employee and wanted to make sure he was approaching this new role in the right way. Most individuals who enter into a mentoring relationship, whether it is the mentor or mentee, have the same question—what are we supposed to do?

That’s great question!

Understanding roles and establishing goals are key to productive and rewarding mentoring. Here are some questions a mentor/mentee pair should ask as they get started.

Why are you seeking mentorship?

 Do you hope to build specific skills? Looking to expand your knowledge of the lab? Do you have personal or professional development goals you’d like to work toward? If you were paired with a mentor through a more structured program such as the Postdoctoral Mentoring Program, one of the goals is to expand your network. The outcomes from this type of mentoring relationship may include diversifying your advisor base, extending your network beyond your immediate group and broadening your outlook on career development and work/life balance. Whether you are a researcher, technical staff or mission support staff, the first step in mentoring should be thinking about what you hope to gain from the relationship.

What is expected of a mentor? What is expected of a mentee?

There is a surprising degree of overlap in expectations for mentors and mentees. Beyond articulating goals, both should commit to maintaining open lines of communication, following up with each other on a regular basis and cultivating the relationship through periodic assessment of initial goals. If the mentoring relationship was initiated to meet specific development outcomes, both parties should assess when to bring closure to the relationship or transition the mentee to a new mentor who can further advance progress towards goals.

What are some examples of things I should do as a mentor?

Introduce yourself to your mentee

  • What does your career path look like?
  • What has been your experience at Argonne?
  • What can you share that you wish you would have known when you first got started in your career?

Set boundaries, expectations and discuss your style

  • When are you available?
  • What topics are you comfortable discussing?
  • What will you expect from your mentee in terms of accountability?
  • What are the benefits you hope to gain from mentoring?
  • Acknowledge that sometimes you will not have the answers and may need to reach out to colleagues to help you better advise your mentee.

Little things mean a lot

    • Check in on your mentee in between meetings.
    • Simply ask, “How are you doing?”
    • Share opportunities that your mentee might find interesting—funding, seminars, lab social events, conferences, etc.
    • Demonstrate active listening by clarifying what your mentee says through repetition.

What are some examples of things I should do as a mentee?

Do a self-assessment to help establish mentoring goals

  • What are your long-term career goals?
  • What are your immediate development needs?
  • What are your goals for personal growth—building confidence, improving communication, and navigating the workplace, for example?
  • Use this annotated conversation planner to start.

Set boundaries, expectations and discuss your style

  • How will mentoring supplement expectations from your supervisor?
  • If you have a timeline for meeting goals, clarify it with your mentor.
  • Do you learn best by listening, doing or through specific examples?
  • How do you intend to act on your mentor’s advice?
  • Are you comfortable receiving (and giving) feedback?

Little things mean a lot

  • Take the lead in arranging meetings with your mentor.
  • If a meeting with your mentor resulted in action items, let your mentor know the outcomes.
  • Simply ask, “How are you doing?”
  • Demonstrate active listening by asking your mentor to share his/her story and ask follow up questions.

Are there tools mentors and mentees can use to foster an effective mentoring relationship?

Absolutely! Take a look at some resources around the web. Keep in mind that the fundamental elements of effective mentoring are the same regardless of your career, role or discipline. Adapt these tools to fit your needs.

UCSF Accelerate Mentor Development Program

This is a comprehensive resource for checklists, background and further reading on all things mentoring.

Sample resource—One minute mentor checklist

University of Wisconsin Research Mentor Training

Walks through the basic elements of effective mentoring, with links tailored for mentors and mentees.

Sample resource—Initial mentoring conversation guide

Management Mentors

Articles, podcasts and mentoring tip sheets from corporate perspective.

Sample resource—How to Prepare for Your Mentor Meeting


Leadership development, mentoring and coaching with an emphasis on inclusion.

Sample resource—Coaches, Mentors and Sponsor—Understanding the Differences




About Kristene Henne

Kristene “Tina” Henne is Argonne’s Postdoctoral Program Lead for the Argonne Leadership Institute. In this role, she facilitates the postdoc appointment process, postdoc career development, mentoring, advises the Postdoctoral Society of Argonne and serves as a navigator for postdoctoral issues.
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