A : "I think the mentor's responsibility should be trying to help you figure out at each stage, as you move toward promotion, what is more important to focus on."

A : "A mentor helps you be analytical and strategic."

A : "A mentor's job is to say, 'I would not get involved in that project. It's going to be a time sink. You may not even appear on the paper...but here is a quick hitter. You're going to get a lot of notoriety from playing around with this.'"

A : "I'm looking for a mentor who says this is going to be a very efficient way for you to build your CV."

Focus Group Findings

Q: “What kind of guidance do you want from a mentor?”

In a series of focus groups with assistant professors in the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, conducted over the course of the 2004-2005 academic year, participants responded to this question. Some of their answers follow here:

As indicated in these quotations, a common denominator underlay focus group participants’ answers: Given promotion standards for their academic track, they wanted to know how to focus their energy at any given stage of their careers so as to achieve long-term goals, that is, how to shape a career in academic medicine strategically.

Guidelines for mentor/mentee conversations


This reference guide provides assistant professors and their mentors with an explicit understanding of what it means to shape a successful career in academic medicine over time. In doing so, it provides both parties with a shared language for evaluating and discussing mentees’ progress from appointment to promotion. Issues that pertain early in faculty members’ careers will fade in relevance as other issues come to the foreground at mid-career and beyond.

Plan your career strategically

“I ask my faculty to think of their careers as start-up businesses. Where do they want to be in three years…in five years?”

~ Alan Pack, M.B., Ch.B., Ph.D., Professor of Medicine

The best way for a mentor and mentee to determine what to emphasize in any given conversation is to think strategically by projecting forward to promotion standards on the mentee’s academic track. Then they can work backward to evaluate whether the mentee is currently on a good trajectory toward meeting those standards.

The shifting emphases in mentor/mentee conversations will be somewhat similar when viewed over time, regardless of track: As faculty move toward promotion, they need to establish ever wider recognition in the academic community for their intellectual leadership. Yet the pace at which they need to meet promotion standards, and the measures and outward markers of success vary considerably from track to track.

What’s in this guide

Guidelines for mentor/mentee conversations according to timeline and academic track

To reflect these differences, separate materials have been developed for the different academic tracks. Given that all faculty in probationary status are reviewed for reappointment or promotion at three-year intervals, the guidelines are presented in three-year blocks. However, in reality, as mentees progress toward their review year, they should be speaking with their assigned mentor at least once a month, and meeting with their chief or chair at least once a year for a more formal performance review.

Flexibility of guidelines

Note that the overriding intent of this reference guide is to offer flexible guidelines that mentors and mentees can adapt to mentees’ individual situations rather than to impose rigid formulas on conversations. Mentees will have distinct issues pertaining to their individual situations, and ultimately individual mentors and mentees are the best judges of what to emphasize in their conversations. Likewise, mentors and mentees should note that no single approach to shaping a career in academic medicine will guarantee all faculty. Ultimately, the School of Medicine Committee on Appointments and Promotions considers candidates individually, focusing on each faculty member’s unique contributions.

Coaching tips for mentors

Although evaluating mentees’ progress toward promotion is an important part of mentor/mentee conversations, it is only one part. To be effective, mentors also need to coach mentees on how to achieve long-term goals. For example, letting a mentee know that he or she should have more first-author publications at a certain point in his or her career may be helpful, but equally important is suggesting how to increase the number – in other words, coaching the mentee, for example by suggesting ways to focus research ideas, by identifying appropriate journals in the field, or by helping the mentee establish a realistic routine for generating manuscripts. While far from exhaustive, the guide provides examples of the kind of advice that may be helpful to mentees at different points in their professional development.

Resources to support mentees’ professional development

It also includes resources such as web sites and PowerPoint presentations that will be helpful to mentees. The majority of these resources are accessible by searching the Faculty Affairs and Professional Development web site at

Value of multiple mentors

“Officially, I had one mentor. Unofficially, I had many more.”

~ Susan H. Guttentag, M.D., Associate Professor, Pediatrics

The emphasis in the guide is on the content of conversations over time. It is worth noting here that mentees are likely to be engaging in these conversations with a number of different mentors – and this is a good strategy. In fact, a recent work-climate survey of faculty in the School of Medicine demonstrated a positive correlation between the number of mentors faculty had and their general satisfaction with their work lives – the greater the number of mentors they had, the greater their level of satisfaction.

In addition to seeking out multiple mentors, faculty may want to switch mentors if they find an assigned mentor personally incompatible or if their research evolves into areas in which the assigned mentor is not well versed. A good first step for finding mentors is to search the Faculty Expertise Database (FEDS) by going to the School of Medicine home page at and clicking on “faculty” in the left-hand column.

Under development

At present, the guide provides information for our standing faculty – those in the clinician-educator and tenure tracks. Information for faculty in the research and academic-clinician tracks is currently being developed. While the current materials are targeted to assistant professors, faculty at all stages of their professional lives, including senior faculty who have been promoted or attained tenure, are likely to benefit from mentoring as well.

Now, choose your track:



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