Mentorship in Communication Sciences and Disorders

Mentoring relationships can enhance professional development and growth in a number of ways:

  • Providing ready access to professional advice
  • Promoting self-confidence
  • Developing new skills
  • Enhancing professional opportunities and contacts
  • Reducing job-related stress

Although mentoring relationships often span many years, it is in the early stages of a mentoring relationship when the crucial formative professional and psychosocial functions of mentoring are provided. This occurs most often during the doctoral training program, but can extend across one's career.


  • Mentor - a trusted counselor or guide who also functions as a tutor or coach
  • Mentee - the recipient of the mentor's counsel, tutoring, and coaching
  • Mentorship - the interactive process engaged in by the mentor and mentee
  • Mentorship program - an explicitly organized plan for providing mentorship to facilitate the achievement of specific goals, e.g., research, teaching, professional service, clinical practice, and/or clinical supervision
  • Mentoring environment - an environment in which a program's organization and activities reflect a commitment to fostering mentorship and achieving mentorship program goals.

Characteristics of Mentors

Successful mentors have diverse professional and personal characteristics, but several traits appear particularly relevant to effective mentorship within the discipline and professions. No one individual is likely to possess all of these traits. Ideally, they will emerge from among several individuals who mentor individual students or colleagues. The following model illustrates mentoring characteristics relevant to research and to mentoring research doctoral students in particular. However, many of the traits are also adaptable to mentoring in teaching, professional service, clinical practice, and/or clinical supervision.

The ideal mentor:

  • Has a productive research record that is regarded as such within the department and the discipline's research community. This clearly identifies research productivity as a role to be emulated by the mentee.
  • Has a record of funded research. This provides confirmation that his/her subject matter and methods have withstood peer review. Current funding may help to support the mentee's education, including some of his/her research activities.
  • Has a record of successful research mentoring and successful mentees. This makes it likely that the mentee will derive similar benefits and also become a productive researcher.
  • Is willing to have his/her research-related activities observed in action. Roles are most readily assumed by observing and imitating role models.
  • Is willing to share credit and responsibility for research-to collaborate, when appropriate, rather than direct. This is especially important as the mentor-mentee relationship matures.
  • Is available to, supportive of, and compatible with the mentee.
  • Is sensitive to the need of many mentees for clinical, teaching, and scientific mentors.
  • Is sensitive to issues related to gender and ethnicity and the possible need of mentees for role models of the same gender and ethnicity.
  • Is willing to share mentoring responsibilities and rewards with others, recognizing that not all of a mentee's needs are likely to be met by a single mentor.
  • Is interested in the specific student as a mentee.
  • Believes that mentoring is satisfying and rewarding, as well as an important responsibility.

Characteristics of Mentees

Effective mentorship relationships are dependent on certain traits in its mentees. 

The ideal mentee:

  • Has an aptitude for becoming a researcher.
  • Possesses a desire to become an active member of a community of researchers and researchers-in-training.
  • Views conducting research as a fundamental component of his/her long-range career goals.
  • Accepts the responsibility to seek role models, counsel, and advice.
  • Recognizes that mentorship at its best is interactive and not directive.

The Mentoring Process

Ideal mentoring recognizes the professional and psychosocial responsibilities of mentors.  The professional aspects of mentoring help provide the tools and skills of a researcher. The psychosocial aspects enhance a sense of competence, identity, and effectiveness as a researcher. 

Roles of Mentors

  • Introduce mentees to the research community and promote their playing of roles within it that are appropriate to their level of development as researchers. Examples: attendance at department or multidisciplinary seminars in the university; attendance at national meetings; presentations at meetings.
  • Teach and demonstrate the conduct of research, including all aspects of the process:  literature review; hypothesis formulation; experimental design; data acquisition, execution, and analysis; and manuscript preparation and peer review.
  • Coach about how to achieve research goals and how to achieve recognition and professional aspirations. Examples: how to schedule stages of research; decisions about how to "pitch" submissions to research conferences; selecting journals for manuscript submission; preparing proposals for funded research; strategies for job interviews or promotional reviews.
  • Permit the mentee to observe the mentor "at work." Examples: attendance at presentations of research by the mentor; reviewing the mentor's manuscript drafts; reviewing critiques of the mentor's work by others; observing the mentor in the laboratory and in the clinic.
  • Instill central values of scholarship, norms for behavior in the research community; appreciation of high academic standards, honesty, freedom of inquiry, and intellectual autonomy.
  • Sponsor the mentee for appropriate assignments, responsibilities, and recognition, within and outside the doctoral program. Examples: arranging collaborative research experiences; nominations or invitations to serve on departmental research committees; assisting less advanced students with research problems such as experimental design or data analysis; and reviewing/critiquing proposals and manuscripts by the mentor or peers.
  • Protect the mentee in controversial situations and intervene in situations the mentee is not yet equipped to handle. Examples: monitoring the appropriateness of work assignments and keeping criticisms of the mentee's work by others fair, constructive, balanced, and directed at promoting development rather than crushing it.
  • Counsel the mentee in an atmosphere that permits sharing of personal concerns and fears that may detract from productive work.
  • Review in formal and informal ways the mentee's progress in developing as a researcher, as well as the mentor's performance as a coach and counselor, in an atmosphere of mutual regard.
  • Demonstrate flexibility and creative thinking and a willingness to challenge and be challenged.
  • Create an atmosphere that promotes friendship.

Mentoring Environment (Program) Roles

The mentoring environment should promote:

  • An esprit de corps within the community of research faculty and students through research seminars, journal clubs, conferences and colloquia, invited lecturers, and opportunities to interact with established researchers from other institutions.
  • Socialization to the academic/research profession by providing opportunities to learn the norms, expectations, and sanctions of a research career. This entails exposing the mentee to all aspects of the research process in action and encouraging the mentee to assume appropriate responsibilities in the process.
  • Participation in research that begins early in the doctoral program and extends throughout the doctoral program.
  • Awareness of expectations regarding the development of research competency.
  • Funding mechanisms that support the development of research competency (for example, research assistantships, funding for the mentee's own research), including mechanisms designed for members of gender or racial/ethnic minorities.
  • Periodic self-evaluation of the mentoring program.
  • Recognition of its most successful mentors.
  • Mechanisms for fostering a productive start to the mentee's postgraduate career (see "Facilitating the Transition to Postdoctoral Work").
  • Recognition of the research accomplishments of current and former doctoral students.

Facilitating the Transition to Postdoctoral Work

Within the context of a predoctoral mentorship program, it is important to foster a productive start to the mentee's postgraduate career. Examples of ways to assist in this transition include:

  • Encouraging and assisting the mentee's manuscript preparation and responses to peer review of his/her dissertation results and other projects conducted during the doctoral program.
  • Encouraging collaborative research with the mentor beyond the dissertation, recognizing that it is important for the mentee to take leadership responsibilities in such efforts.
  • Developing a plan, before completion of the dissertation, for a program of follow-up studies that will extend the efforts of the dissertation (design and sequence of such studies; identifying appropriate funding agencies; providing guidance in preparation of proposals for funding; participating as a consultant or co-investigator informal grant proposals).
  • Identifying federal and other funding sources designed for new investigators and encouraging and assisting applications for such support.
  • Identifying other senior researchers who would be interested in facilitating, supporting, or mentoring the mentee's initial postdoctoral research efforts.
  • Leading formal and informal discussions during the doctoral program of the value of postdoctoral research training to a productive research career.
  • Making available listings and descriptions of postdoctoral training opportunities and assisting the mentee's evaluation of specific programs' ability to meet his/her needs.
  • Supporting the mentee's applications for postdoctoral training through letters of recommendations and personal contact with postdoctoral program directors.
  • Assisting the mentee in evaluating employment offers, with special attention to a position's potential to foster a productive research career, and advising negotiating strategies for ensuring support for research activities.

Predoctoral training programs should explicitly recognize their responsibilities for fostering the mentee's progress toward an independent research career. It is particularly important that mentees be actively engaged in all levels of the research process and that they be regarded as apprentices rather than research assistants. Mentors within the predoctoral program should view their responsibilities as extending beyond the doctoral program and should make efforts to facilitate the mentee's transition to independence from formal training programs.

Adapted for the Web from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (1994). Handbook of Research Education in Communication Sciences and Disorders: A Guide for Program Directors, Research Mentors, and Prospective PhD Students. Research and Scientific Affairs Committee, November 1994.

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