Examining information from a variety of sources, we found evidence that identifying and aligning expectations in the mentoring relationship is viewed as important by scholars, mentors, KL2 program directors, and experts in the field. The comments of scholars and mentors in the focus group interviews were compelling, both in the positive sense (i.e., aligning expectations enhances the mentoring relationship) and in the negative (i.e., failure to do so may result in a mismatched or dysfunctional relationship).
A majority of KL2 programs explicitly communicate programmatic expectations to scholars and mentors. A minority use mentoring agreements or contracts to facilitate the process of alignment of expectations between scholars and mentors. Viewed collectively, they address a broad range of domains, including the scholar’s research and education, professional development and career advancement and interactions between with the scholar and mentor with respect to support, communication, and personal conduct and interpersonal relations.
However, evidence of the efficacy of these tools—used either individually or as a part of a general intervention, such as seminars or workshops to build mentoring skills—was sparse and inconclusive. Three studies provided data regarding the effectiveness of their interventions, 36–38
but only one had a control group.36
In addition, aside from the institution-wide increase in K awards reported by Blixen et al.37
(a finding that is difficult to attribute to a one-half day workshop), the data were largely composed of self-reports of short term outcomes.
Given the substantial investment of time, effort and resources in training new researchers, our findings suggest it is imperative that we develop and use better process and outcome measures to evaluate the current status of mentoring. To this end, we have proposed several process and outcome measures relevant to the alignment of expectations between scholars and mentors, as outlined in .
Proposed process and outcome measures for evaluating the alignment of expectations in the mentoring relationship.
Process measures—that is, measures to document the frequency and content of the discussion of expectations between scholars and mentors, what they identify as being expected of themselves and each other, and their satisfaction with the mentoring relationship—are relatively easy to measure and likely to be quite sensitive to change. However, these measures do not evaluate mentoring effectiveness, especially with respect to critical endpoints such as the professional development and career advancement of the scholar.
Outcome measures include the achievement of scholars’ near-term professional and career milestones. This measure is likely to be very useful because of its relevance, feasibility and direct linkage with the effectiveness of the mentoring relationship. Traditional long-term outcomes such as publications, grants, and promotion are standardized and highly meaningful, but require a longer measurement timeframe and are likely to be confounded by other variables. Better methods are needed to track the achievement of scholars’ milestones electronically.
There is also a pressing need for systematic efforts to study the effectiveness of mentoring interventions, especially interventions to facilitate alignment of expectations between scholars and mentors. These efforts should be performed using robust study designs, such as randomized, controlled trials or high-quality program evaluations using quantitative and qualitative assessment strategies. The CTSA Consortium provides an outstanding forum to conduct these types of studies and a clinical trial of the effectiveness of a mentor training program, which includes a module on aligning expectations, is currently underway (ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT00100386).
Based on comments of scholars reported in this paper, a scholar training program that enhances their ability to understand their needs as junior investigators, effectively negotiate with power-brokers, and to efficiently manage their mentorship teams is also needed.
In this report, we focused on mentoring relationships intended to train investigators engaged in clinical and translational research, specifically K-type or other career development award recipients, postdoctoral fellows, and PhD candidates. These relationships typically extend over several years and involve scholars and mentors at the same institution. The findings in this report, particularly those that relate to formal mechanisms for aligning expectations, may have less relevance to shorter term training relationships, such those involving residents, medical students and prebaccalaureate scholars, or scholars in international or distance training relationships.40,41
Nonetheless, the importance of aligning expectations, particularly early in the course of the relationship, and the general types of expectations that should be aligned are likely to apply to these relationships.
In addition, we have focused primarily on events and processes that occur early in the course of the mentoring relationship. While this an especially critical period, it is important to acknowledge that the expectations that the scholar and mentor have of each other must be revised as their work progresses and should evolve over time as the scholar’s skills develop. Indeed, the primary goal of research training programs is to generate independent researchers. Future work should explore how the expectations that scholars and mentors have of each other should evolve to address this challenge.
Finally, while we identified a need for flexibility, we did not explore in detail how the process of aligning expectations should take into account the prior research training and experience of the scholar, the prior mentoring experience of the mentor, the type of training program, the organizational culture, and the age, generation, sex, race/ethnicity/culture, work styles and personalities of the scholar and mentor. Factors such as these can have a significant impact on the overall quality of a mentoring relationship, the mentoring strategies used, and the effectiveness of those strategies. 1,2,15,42
Future work should explore how the alignment process can be designed to allow for sufficient flexibility in individual mentoring relationships, so as to optimize the effectiveness of mentoring in speci3c contexts.