A Mentoring Mosaic for Research Administrators

Adesola Olaleye - Professor and Director of Research and Development, MIST Innovate Inc.



A mosaic is "an artistic technique that uses tiny parts to create a whole image or object." The word "Mentor" is proverbial and can be said to refer to someone who opens up others and lead them into new experiences and the world. A mentor is described as a person who pours their skills into others, encourages them and protects their protégés. Research Administrators (RA) can be described as "system thinkers" that view various components of systems and compare these to the whole. In Greek mythology, the spirit of the Mentor is seen in the character of the protégées.  This blog is to create awareness of how to mentor a novice RA and transform them into a potent force, with the implication that they will be able to mentor non-tenured faculty. Education is a "powerful force" that constantly shapes the quality of experience, and mentoring can be viewed with the same lens.

Mentoring has been used interchangeably with – advising, supervising, coaching, assisting, guiding, leading etc. Though these words are very relevant to the theory and  practice of mentorship, they fail to address the broader side and depth of what mentoring is and what it is not. Mentoring should be an art and a science. It is "a holistic form of teaching and learning that encompasses the professional, personal, psychosocial, and it must also take into consideration every aspect of the career of the protégées. Mentoring process can be either formal (e.g. structured) or informal (e.g. spontaneous), but the end result is that it helps develop key talents through career development, education, learning, boot engagement and eventually career fulfillment.

Once a student enrolls in Research Administration Certificate in Mohawk College, it is mandated that the student becomes a member of the Canadian Association of Research Administrator (CARA). In addition, Mentees are matched with a mentor "to supplement the professional development opportunities offered by webinars, workshops, and conferences." In Ecology, it is a known fact that trees planted in a cleared forest will grow faster and better compared to the ones in an open field. Also, an African proverb says, "If you want to run fast, run alone, but if you want to run far, run together with people." This explains the need for Mosaic mentoring. In a study conducted on junior faculty in 2005, only 52% in the Faculty of Medicine and 68% in Basic Sciences reported having a mentor to assist them along their career paths. Of these only 24% mentioned that they received assistance in skills development. There is a strong relationship between a mentored junior faculty and career satisfaction, job promotion, increased number of research grants obtained, increased level of publications etc. Thus, mentoring brings about greater confidence and higher enthusiasm in younger ones. When RAs are newly employed, they often "hit the ground running". It is important to note that in the 21st century, mentoring new or novice RAs should rely less on individual mentoring relationships but more on group mentoring. It has also been observed that people of colour frequently experience professional and social isolation in their new professional roles3. For the novice, newly employed RAs and those under training, a unique mentoring model is suggested called Mentoring Mosaic and Co-Mentoring. These models will help  new RAs excel and address cultural and social deficits in their respective work environments. As new RAs become part of the colleges and universities, they will need to be socialized within different units to experience success and a sense of belonging, which will ultimaley take these institutions to new levels in the field of Research Administration.

Finally, what makes a good mentor? S/he is accomplished with a track record of academic success, open-mindedness, grant-writing savvy, approachability, knowledge of the institution's political roles and inner working. S/he assists mentees to become independent and will not seek to "clone" the protégées or monopolize or exploit the mentee. On the flip side, who is a good mentee?  S/he is committed, flexible, willing to accept feedback,  open to new ideas or opinions and have good initiative. To be a good mentee also, novice RAs should be efficient and systematic, be considerate of scheduled meetings with Mentors ahead of time, be trustworthy, resourceful, proactive,  responsible and  hardworking. A good mentee should be realistic and learn from mistakes, be dependable and professional.

Mullen, C. A. (2009). Re-Imagining the Human Dimension of Mentoring: A Framework for Research Administration and the Academy. Journal of research administration40(1), 10-31.

Lowenstein, S. R. (2006). Behind every great star: A mentoring guide for school of medicine faculty and administrators. Retrieved April25, 2012.

Bland, C. J., & Schmitz, C. C. (1986). Characteristics of the successful researcher and implications for faculty development. Journal of medical education.