Ask the Mentor

 

Take a look at this quarter’s early career question and our mentors’ responses! If you have a question you would like to submit for the Ask the Mentor column, or if you would like to serve as a mentor for the column, please email Brooks Wingo.

 

ASK THE MENTOR QUESTION FOR JUNE

What advice can you give about handling a mentoring relationship that is not working out? My mentor is a senior scientist who travels frequently. Our mentoring plan included weekly or bi-weekly meetings, but we typically only see each other once every 2-3 months. Additionally, I don’t feel like she supports my research interests. She often suggests projects that are not within my scope of knowledge or interest, and I have to remind her what my area of research is. How long should I try to stick it out, and how should I confront the situation if I feel like I need to change mentors? —Submitted by an ACRM Early Career member

 

MENTOR RESPONSES

Sue Ann SistoSue Ann Sisto, PT, MA, PhD, FACRM
Professor, Physical Therapy
Research Director, Rehabilitation Research and Movement Performance (RRAMP) Laboratory
Chair, PhD in Health and Rehabilitation Sciences School of Health Technology & Management

You should address this with your mentor directly at your next meeting. Note: "I see that you are unable to meet with me as often as we originally planned and when we meet, you are speaking of other projects unrelated to mine". Ask if there can be a re-calibration to focus on your research project and if more frequent in person meetings are not feasible, ask if you can communicate in other ways (skype, facetime, skype). All this said, if you continue to meet resistance for change in this meeting, then speak to your graduate program director about changing mentors. Then promptly proceed with a new mentor so as not to slow your progress.

Remember, only you are in charge of your pace as a graduate student. A mentor will respond best to those students who are not passive but take charge, come to mentor meetings with a prepared agenda and act on each task as discussed.

It is important, however, not to burn bridges. Explain to your existing mentor that you appreciate all that he/she has done for you and that you realize that he/she is quite busy so you have decided to seek out a new mentor. Offer any possibility that he/she can remain as a co-mentor, if desired. In some way, you want to assuage any resentment and depart with the utmost diplomacy and professionalism, even if you disagree with his/her assessment. Don't argue, just provide thanks and suggest that it is your hope that your paths may cross again soon.

 

Steve PageSteve Page, OTR/L, PhD, MS, FAHA, FACRM
Associate Professor, The Ohio State University
School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, Division of Occupational Therapy

I am sorry that you do not feel that your relationship is working out with your mentor. Although it will be difficult, the best, first step is always to speak directly with your mentor. I would begin by expressing your appreciation for her time and efforts thus far, and then articulate (or re-state in this case) your goals for the experience, and the experiences/stepping stones that you feel would be useful in helping you to attain those goals. Obviously there was something about her that attracted you to the position, so this would also be an excellent time to identify the experiences that you had expected to engage in, how she can still figure prominently in helping you to attain those goals, and the skills that you would like to learn (if applicable) to attain them. I would then ask her for her opinions on the likelihood of this occurring.

This is NOT a time to rehash the things that have not happened but, rather to problem solve and be future oriented. So, while I understand your frustrations, focus on what can be done constructively. If she cannot meet your needs, then try to come to that agreement, either during that conversation, or in a subsequent conversation. Indeed, you might ask time to think about her responses and come back to her with a decision as to whether she can help you to attain your goals. If she cannot, ask her to help you try and find an alternative mentor and ask if she can still take on a secondary role.

Good luck!