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Practical guide to mentor-mentee relationships

A Practical Guide to Mentor–Mentee Relationships for Early Career Researchers

Written by Richard de Grijs

1. Overview

Engaging in a mentoring programme provides a worthwhile opportunity for early-career researchers (ECRs) to engage with senior staff, other than their direct line managers, to discuss career-related topics, as well as issues related to their work–life balance. While the specific objectives of such a programme will vary for each individual, the overall goal is to assist ECRs in achieving their long-term career aspirations. 

Suggested programme overview

  • Mentee-driven meetings can be held in a casual or social setting, or in a more formal environment with an optional written individual development plan. In-person and online meetings can achieve similar objectives.

  • Individual programmes cater to engagement of one mentor and one mentee. 

  • We suggest to hold a minimum of four meetings per year, of approximately 1 hour each. 

  • Mentor–mentee pairs do not need to be drawn from the same discipline. Cross-disciplinarity is in fact encouraged to keep the outcomes broad rather than specific to a given academic field. 

2. Suggested timeline 




Mentor–mentee pair matched

Mentor and mentee complete their AuthorAID profiles 


Mentee to send their full CV to their mentor, as well as a statement as to the desired outcomes of the programme


Prior to the start of the programme

First meeting (in person or online)

Mentor and mentee

Start of the programme

Second meeting

Mentor and mentee

Month 2

Third meeting

Mentor and mentee

Month 4

Fourth meeting

Mentor and mentee

Month 6

Review meeting and feedback 

Mentor and mentee

Month 9


Note that these guide dates are completely flexible. They can be adjusted depending on the timetable and needs of the mentor/mentee.

3. Background 

3.1 General mentoring concepts 

  • Although this document offers suggestions as to how the program can be implemented, the actual implementation depends on the specific needs and availability of the mentor–mentee pair. 

  • A ‘mentor’ in this context is a trusted adviser and confidant. It is important that the mentor and mentee agree that nothing will be discussed with anyone else without consulting with each other first (in other words, respect the confidentiality of the process). 

  • The relationship between mentor and mentee is based on mutual trust and respect, not on specific expectations or outcomes.

  • Both participants bring to the relationship different levels of experience, knowledge and status, but the mentor–mentee relationship is not meant to be hierarchical, and there should not be a power imbalance. It is important to realise that all topics discussed simply represent advice, not instructions. 

  • The focus is meant to be on identifying specific challenges for exploration, analysis, reflection and problem solving. Mentoring offers an opportunity to learn through association, insight and reflection.

  • Mentoring is just one of a number of modes of support and advice as regards career progression.

For further reading regarding good mentoring practices, see: Lee et al. (2007), Nature, 447, 791-792: https://www.nature.com/articles/447791a

3.2 Mentoring roles: Duties and responsibilities



Duties and responsibilities



Provide guidance and support

  • Model good leadership. 
  • Be available within negotiated parameters (for example, at least once per 3 months over a 12-month period); renegotiate if necessary. 
  • Use active and empathetic listening; do not judge. 
  • Provide constructive feedback. 
  • Allow for differences of opinion and recognise different learning styles and personalities. 
  • Prepare to be challenged. 
  • Communicate clearly and honestly; respect confidentiality. 
  • Communicate any planned absences or schedule variations in advance if possible. 



Request and drive the relationship

  • All meetings should be mentee driven. 
  • Be prepared well in advance as regards your objectives prior to any scheduled meeting. 
  • Develop a framework for collaboration: identify challenges; be clear about needs and expectations, and communicate these to your mentor; negotiate a meeting schedule, format and boundaries of each participant’s availability and respect these. 
  • Communicate any planned absences or schedule variations in advance if possible. 
  • Respect difference in opinion and remain open to learn from your mentor’s experience. 
  • Prepare to be challenged. 
  • Seek feedback and respond respectfully. 
  • Communicate clearly and honestly, and respect confidentiality. 


4. Structuring the relationship 

4.1 First Meeting 

The first meeting is an opportunity to negotiate an agreement that will guide both parties. 

It is helpful if both mentor and mentee come to their first meeting well prepared. We suggest that the mentee sends their CV to the mentor before their first meeting. 

Some initial items for discussion may include: 

  • What are our mutual goals? 

  • Which roles do we adopt, and what are our expectations? 

  • What are our responsibilities? 

  • How often shall we meet? 

  • How much time are we willing to invest in the relationship? 

  • What will we do if the relationship does not work out?

  • How will we evaluate the efficacy of the process? 


Questions to consider when setting goals may include:

  • What are the desired outcomes? 

  • If skills development is the aim, which specific skills are sought? Skills could include CV writing, grant writing, specific research or teaching skills, etc. 

  • Does the mentee have, or want to:

  • Set career goals? 

  • Write a career action plan? 

  • Develop a particular area? 

Most importantly, be flexible as regards your goals and see how the programme unfolds. 


Roles, Responsibilities and Expectations 

Spend time at the beginning of the relationship to negotiate and agree upon expectations. Have a frank discussion at the outset to clarify the parameters of the relationship. 


4.2 Structuring Meeting Time 

Determine how to use your time together. Be prepared and have a goal in mind for each session. 

During a one-hour meeting, you could split the time roughly as follows: 

  • 1–10 minutes:     Engage in a personal and professional “check-in”.

  • 10–40 minutes:     Focus on urgent issues, such as an impending presentation, an interview for a new position, career planning, exploring new ideas, grant submission, preparation to teach a new course, industry negotiations, etc. 

  • 40–60 minutes:     Discuss current and long-term goals and priorities, such as securing a fellowship or a permanent/continuing academic appointment. 


4.3 First Meeting Example Issues for Possible Discussion

Who are you? 

  • Outline the mentee’s circumstances as regards your professional role and personal life (to the extent you are willing to share personal information).

  • Introduce the mentor’s background, achievements and career goals; share personal information to the extent that you are comfortable doing so.

What are our guidelines? 

  • When and where (and how) will we meet? 

  • How long will our meetings last? (Suggested time: 1–1.5 hours per meeting) 

  • How will we schedule meetings? (Must be mentee driven)

  • Will we communicate between meetings? 

  • The mentee will decide the agenda’s format, e.g. casual or more structured. 

  • Will there be any fixed agenda items to be discussed every time? 

  • How will we exchange feedback? 

  • How will we measure success? 

What have we agreed on? 

  • Review your goals for the mentoring relationship 

  • Schedule the date(s), time and place of future meetings (or at least for the next meeting) 


5. Additional resources