Adviser? Teacher? Sage? What is a mentor?

I think most of us engage in informal mentoring of our junior colleagues as new hires enter the academy, but I recently have taken on more formalized roles that have me pondering what it means to be an effective mentor.  Is it a matter of providing navigational guideposts for advancement toward tenure?  Advice about publishing strategies?  Providing a friendly eye for early drafts?  Teaching aid and advice?  Support for other decision-making, such as child-bearing, and attempting the elusive ‘work-life balance’?  I think mentoring can be all of these things, depending on the mentee’s personal and institutional needs, but I started to question my own assumptions when asked during a panel at SEALS last summer whether anyone really needs a mentor.  My gut reaction was yes, especially for women, minorities, and those who did not attend the usual professor-generating law schools (which are simply better at facilitating connections in the academy).  But, it seems like not many receive the kind of mentoring they desire.  Of course, some formalized inter-school mentoring opportunities exist, such as the annual SEALS conference, which is terrific for matching new scholars with mentors who provide substantive feedback.  Also, the AALS Women in Legal Education Committee has its own website, which is designed to facilitate mentee cold-calling of mentors who look to be a good match (which may be a unique approach).

All of that said, CoOp readers, what do you think makes a good mentor?  What are junior academicians seeking in this context that they can’t find?  And, what other mentoring opportunities are out there?  I would be most grateful for comments either here or by e-mail.  Finally, I would be happy to aggregate information and post it (if enough flows my way before the end of the month).

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