Beyond hierarchical one-on-one mentoring

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Science  02 Nov 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6414, pp. 532
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav7656

Peer mentoring can provide support, facilitate collaborative problem solving, and build confidence.


The NextGen Voices section “Quality mentoring” (5 October, p.22) demonstrates how traditional hierarchical mentoring relationships, when they work, can be sources of incredible psychosocial and practical support. However, when these relationships are not strong, they can hinder or even harm mentees (1, 2). The unequal power dynamic of a senior mentor (typically one who is male and white) and junior mentee can be especially problematic for individuals belonging to systematically marginalized identity groups (such as women, people of color, and individuals with disabilities) and can exacerbate a sense of isolation for the mentee (3). Furthermore, mentees, more than mentors, say that mentoring relationships should directly address cultural diversity (4). A mentoring network, including peer mentoring, can address the shortfalls of traditional one-on-one mentoring.

A mentoring network with multiple modes of mentoring (5) dismantles the guru mentor myth, which suggests that one senior mentor is a necessary and sufficient source of mentoring. Instead, a mentoring network framework centers on the mentees and what they need and desire to thrive in their career; it then meets their varied needs through a host of mentoring relationships (6, 7). Peer mentoring can serve as an important node in an individual's broader mentoring network and reduce the reliance on hierarchical relationships (8).

Peer mentoring is a truly horizontal mentoring experience (9) that offers participants access to resources, support, and accountability in a regular group meeting setting. Evidence suggests that peer mentoring is most effective with groups of five to eight participants who are all at a similar career stage, have complementary fields of expertise, and share social identities (such as gender, race, ethnicity, or ability status) (10). There is no senior mentor, and thus the model asserts that each peer mentoring participant has useful wisdom and perspectives to share as well as areas in which they need advice. Peer mentoring provides an opportunity to collaboratively problem solve, share ideas and perspectives, and develop community and thus serves as a mechanism for developing independence and career self-efficacy (11).

Peer mentoring becomes especially important as mentees mature and develop into independent scientists. Through peer mentoring, individuals participate in reciprocal and interactive relationships in which they have the opportunity to develop not only their own problem-solving skills and career self-efficacy but also their confidence and skills as mentors. Peer mentoring can be a component of a professional development program (12) or a stand-alone activity (10). Those looking for the mentoring so valued by contributors to the NextGen Voices survey might consider giving peer mentoring a try.


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