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Issues In Educational Research, Vol 14, 2004
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Reconceptualising mentoring: Reflections by an early career researcher

Maggie Clarke
University of Western Sydney
This paper focuses on the experiences of an early career researcher involved in a mentoring relationship at the University of Western Sydney (UWS), Australia. A discussion of the research literature is reported to highlight the attributes of mentoring relationships and the different forms of mentoring. The mentoring relationship that the author is involved in at her workplace with two colleagues is explained using a layered relationship-mentoring model. This mentoring model has been based on the reflections of two mentors and a protege, (in this case the author) and analysis of their email communication. The model consists of three layers and within each layer the characteristics of the mentoring relationship are identified. The mentoring relationship is examined in respect of the implications such relationships have on professional learning for academics in their early career stages. The model provides a conceptual framework for educational and other organisations to provide opportunities for similar mentoring relationships to be formed in their particular organisation for early career employees.


This paper presents an overview of the history of mentoring and a number of definitions of mentoring from the literature. Mentoring is discussed in terms of the types of relationships that are formed in the mentoring process. Within the relationships different communication pathways, which form the basis of the discussion of the types of mentoring, are reported.

Mentoring is not a new concept. The term was used as early as 800BC, in Ancient Greek mythology, in Homer's Odyssey (Debolt, 1992; Reglin, 1998; Bond, 1999; Schwiebert, 2000). The original Mentor was given the care and guidance of Odysseus' son, Telemachus. The Mentor in this instance served as a role model, guide, facilitator, and protector. Kerka (1998) tells of a narrowed concept of mentoring during the Industrial Age, between a master and an apprentice, focussing on career advancement only. The Information Age has seen an expansion of the concept of mentoring to include career and psychosocial aspects.

There was a resurgent interest in mentoring occurring in the 1990s as indicated by Zey, (1991); Carruthers, (1993) and Kerka (1998). Kerka (1998) explained that this interest was due to organisational trends such as downsizing, restructuring, and teamwork. Increasingly, managers in organisations were seeing mentoring as an important source of learning for less experienced employees. Cohen (1995) affirms that mentoring programs are increasingly being recognised by institutions as an important source of learning for those "whose personal, educational and career development can benefit from meaningful relationships with experienced professionals" (p. vii). Many Australian organisations are recognising that facilitation and support of a mentoring process is an effective strategy that can significantly benefit individuals by affording them an opportunity to grow, develop and share their professional and personal skills and experiences.

Over time there has been a plethora of definitions on mentoring. In general, modern mentors are viewed as influential and more experienced people who can assist in the attainment of work and career goals of a less experienced person in the organisation. Mentors have been defined as guides (Bey & Holmes, 1992), counsellors or coaches and role models (Crow & Mathews, 1998). These definitions viewed mentoring as one-way relationships. Jeruchim and Shapiro (1992), however, presented a different view of mentoring encompassing a mutual and beneficial relationship between the mentor and protege.

They define mentoring as

... at its best, a close, intense, mutually beneficial relationship between someone who is older, wiser, more experienced, and more powerful with someone younger or less experienced. It is a complementary relationship, within an organisational or professional context, built on both the mentor's and the protege's needs (p. 23).

Attributes and discussion of different forms of mentoring

By defining different forms of mentoring and the attributes of each form communication pathways and types of relationships established can be identified. Mentoring can be recognized by the type of relationship that is evident in each mentoring process. It can be a formal or an informal relationship and within these boundaries the relationship can be reciprocal or non-reciprocal. A reciprocated communication pathway for each of the participants in the relationship and an equal role status of the mentor and protege constitute the mentoring relationship that is referred to here as "co-mentoring," and is the ultimate focus of this study.

Formal mentoring

Formal mentoring relationships are generally designed for a predetermined length of time and are usually of short duration. Many managers implement formal mentoring programs as a strategy to induct new employees into their organisation (Douglas & McCauley, 1997). Within these programs the protege is allocated to a mentor by the management of the organisation and usually, there is little or no involvement of staff in the selection process of matching the mentor and protege by either party. These programs are purposefully developed, monitored and evaluated by the management in terms of expectations and goal attainment. There is an inequality of status in this relationship with communication usually being one-way. The mentor directs and drives the communication down to the protege with little opportunity for the protege to have input or respond to the communication from the mentor. The one-way communication in formal mentoring can result in the protege being unable to 'connect' with the mentor. (Figure 1).

Inequality of status with communication.
Communication is driven down to the protege


Figure 1


Figure 1: Formal mentoring communication pathway

Douglas and McCauley (1997) reported that senior management in organisations in the United States, which did not already have a formal mentoring program in place were planning on developing one within the following three years. As organisational competitiveness increases so does the role of the management of the organisation extend to capitalise on the intellectual capital of its employees.

Phillips-Jones (1982), Kram (1991) and Murray (1991) have argued that management personnel in organisations do not fully understand the challenges inherent within formal mentoring programs. Ragins and Cotton (1999) put this lack of understanding down to the scarcity of empirical research related to mentoring programs. Indeed, practice has exceeded the pace of empirical research. In formal mentoring programs mentors do not have a previous personal connection with their protege but participate in the mentoring programs for the 'good of the organisation'. As an outcome of this lack of connection, both mentors and protege may not always be committed to each other or to the program. The consequences of this diminished commitment can result in an underdeveloped mentoring relationship.

Informal mentoring

The essence of informal mentoring is the establishment of beneficial interpersonal relationships based upon effective communication (Kerka, 1998). Mentors in informal mentoring relationships provide direction, support and insights and they essentially provide "...their proteges with a sense of what they are becoming" (Debolt, 1992, p.30). Opportunities for recognition, encouragement, feedback, advice on balancing responsibilities and knowledge of the informal rules of the organisation have been cited in the literature as some of the benefits of informal mentoring (Kerka, 1998; Schwiebert, 2000).

Informal mentoring relationships are spontaneously formed through people getting to know each other in the work environment. The relationship is usually voluntary and is often based on mutual professional identity and respect. The relationship is of a more personal nature and communication flows usually from the mentor to the protege but it takes place in a more informal manner (Figure 2). This informality is derived from the fact that the management of the organisation does not initiate the relationship but rather the relationship often forms through social contexts such as meetings over coffee. The communication in this relationship is more relaxed and has little structure. The mentor's communication is usually in the form of support, guidance and advice. Within this type of informal mentoring relationship there is still a hierarchical status with communication between the mentor to the protege. The difference in the status of the relationship between formal and informal mentoring relationships is that the communication in informal relationships is less formal as the name denotes.

Ragins and Cotton (1999), in a comprehensive study in the United States, compared formal and informal mentoring. They found that informal mentoring relationships were much more beneficial to proteges than formal relationships as the strategies used in the informal process were of a more personal nature such as coaching, counselling, role modelling and providing friendship.

There is still a hierarchy of status in this relationship
but the communication is less formal


Figure 2


Figure 2: Informal mentoring communication pathway

Perna, Lenner & Yurs (1995) concluded from their research that the effectiveness between formal and informal mentoring could be due to the differences in the structure of the relationships. The pairing in an informal mentoring relationship is often the result of both the mentor and the protege selecting personal qualities that mirror the qualities they would like to emulate. The informal mentoring relationship offers both the mentor and the protege the opportunity to select each other, an aspect not usually present in formal mentoring programs. Ragins and Cotton (1999) also indicated that formal mentoring programs often last less than a year. On the other hand, informal mentoring relationships can last for many years allowing for a personal connection between the mentor and protege to develop.

Evidence from the literature indicated that there are fewer limitations in informal mentoring than formal mentoring. Ragins and Cotton (1999) found in their research that the benefits of informal mentoring were many. The two major areas of difference between informal and informal mentoring were in the levels of career guidance and psychosocial support. Informal mentors provided a higher level of coaching and increased the proteges visibility in the organisation. They also provided counselling, social interaction, role modelling and friendship.


The co-mentoring relationship has been a recent development reported in the literature (Jipson & Paley, 2000; Mullen, 2000; Kochan & Trimble, 2000). Co-mentoring recognises the contribution that each person brings to the relationship and is based on reciprocal benefit. In this relationship the status of each person is equal and the communication pathway is one of reciprocity with each person mutually benefiting from the relationship (Figure 3).

In this relationship the status of each person is equal
and the communication pathway is one of reciprocity.

ProtegeFigure 3 Mentor

Figure 3: Co-mentoring communication pathway

Mullen (2000) defined the co-mentoring relationship as synergistic. She viewed it as providing opportunities to be involved in each other's learning by sharing purpose and commitment in common projects. A number of other writers including Jipson and Paley (2000) and Kochan and Trimble (2000) documented their personal co-mentoring experiences. In their stories they discussed how these experiences were mutually beneficial. Their discussions were based on collaboration and shared decision-makings. The ability to collaborate and share was seen as providing opportunities to strengthen personal and professional skills.

Rymer (2002) discussed two essential components necessary for a successful co-mentoring relationship. The relationship should be a friendship of peers rather than a hierarchical relationship and that communication was dialogue rather than the transmission of organisational information. The co-mentoring relationship serves the individual needs of each person involved in the relationship. Within the relationship the individuals act as partners often complementing each other's knowledge and skills. The co-mentors may be different ages and have different expertise, skills and knowledge. What is important in this type of mentoring relationship is that the relationship is of mutual benefit.

Table 1 provides examples of characteristics of each type of mentoring. Examples of characteristics of design, allocation, selection and monitoring processes, communication, status, type of relationship, commitment and connection of mentors and proteges are drawn together in this table to illustrate the differences and similarities of each of the types of mentoring.

Table 1: Exemplars of characteristics of types of mentoring relationships

CharacteristicFormal mentoringInformal mentoringCo-mentoring
Design structurePre-determined length of time in the relationshipOften relationships last for an extended period of timeOften relationships last for an extended period of time
Allocation of protege to the mentorAllocated by the management of the organisationUsually spontaneously formedBased on each other's complementary knowledge and skills
Selection processLittle or no involvement of staff in the selection of mentor to protegeVoluntary, often based on mutual professional identity and respectFriendship of peers
Monitoring proceduresMonitored in terms of expectations and goal attainmentNo formal monitoringNo formal monitoring
CommunicationOne-way communication from mentor to protegeCommunication takes place in an informal mannerDialogue occurs
Status of each person in the relationshipInequality of statusStill a hierarchical status but communication less formalEqual status
Type of relationshipNon-reciprocalReciprocal benefitReciprocal benefit
Mentor connection with protegeSometimes lack of connection occursMore personal connection of protege to mentor through coaching, counselling and role modelling strategiesIndividuals act as partners complementing each other's knowledge and skills
Commitment to the mentoring programMay not always be committed to each other or to the programSelf selection based on personal and professional qualitiesMutual benefit gained from the relationship

This study examined the communication pathway and mentoring relationship of three academics at UWS. The study considered how this relationship developed into a layered mentoring program and used collection and analysis of data from a variety of sources.


A qualitative methodology was used in the evolution of this study, over a period of ten months. Specifically within the qualitative paradigm a phenomenographic methodology was core to this study. Marton, (1986, cited in Richardson, 1999, p.53) described phenomenography as an "empirically based approach that aims to identify the qualitatively different ways in which different people experience, conceptualise, perceive and understand various kinds of phenomena". The aim of this phenomenographic research was to determine a structure from various descriptions of a concept. The structure enabled the concepts to be identified or "fitted into" characteristics (categories).

Collection of data

The data for this research has been drawn from three sources; the literature on mentoring, reflections by the two mentors and the protege (the author), and relevant emails communicated between the mentors and the protege. Specifically,

  1. the research literature was used to assist in an understanding of the variety of relationships that can be formed during mentoring and to give form and shape to the data and the analysis of that data.

  2. reflections on this mentoring relationship by my mentors and me as protege, were collected over the same ten-month period as the email conversations. My mentors reflected and wrote on our mentoring experience and I reflected and wrote on the processes I encountered as this relationship developed. Again, the phenomenographic process was used to identify the categories that were discussed in these reflections. The mentors' reflections were analysed in terms of the input, processes and outcomes that were evident in our mentoring relationship. My reflections were analysed in terms of the characteristics that were evident in each phase of the mentoring relationship. Outcomes of each of the phases of the relationship were also identified from my reflections.

  3. emails, collected over the ten months, between my mentors and myself were analysed to discover the mentoring characteristics that had been identified as typical of each type of mentoring. An independent person was then given a clean copy of the email contents and asked to identify the email contents in relation to the characteristics that had been identified. The independent person's identification of characteristics in the contents of the emails was compared to mine. Phenomenographic methodology was used to identify and validate the characteristics of the email conversations. Marton (1988) dealt with the issue of external and internal validity by arguing that finding categories was a form of discovery and as such the characteristics do not have to be replicated in further studies.

Analysis and findings of data


The literature indicated that mentoring is not confined to one type or form of mentoring relationship. An analysis of the literature revealed that in each mentoring process some form of relationship was evident. It also gave form to the fact that mentoring relationships could be formal or informal and that the relationship could be reciprocal or non-reciprocal. Also evident from the literature were the communication pathways that were part of each type of mentoring relationship. This basis of the types of mentoring relationships assisted me in developing the conceptual framework of the layered model of mentoring.

The mentors' reflections

Both of my mentors reflected on the relationship as having benefits in a two-way flow. They discussed characteristics of the relationship as having shared interaction through communication. Both of the mentors discussed the skills they brought to the mentoring relationship such as qualitative data analysis and literature review skills.

The mentors' reflections were useful to identify what kinds of support they provided the protege (input), how they provided this support (processes) and what were the results (outcomes) that were evident from their support. It became apparent from the mentors reflections that both mentors had contributed to the mentoring relationship but that they had contributed in different ways. They used a range of strategies to assist the protege and they provided a supportive relationship where collaboration occurred to assist in the protege's professional learning and development.

Further analysis showed that the mentors' reflections revealed a number of supportive strategies used in the mentoring relationship. These strategies included such processes as assisting in the development of a professional identity of the protege, nurturing and collaboration, development of research skills such as writing literature reviews and analysis of qualitative data.

These reflective statements identified the outcomes of the mentoring relationship and described the results of this relationship as providing trust and a critical friend to the protege that enhanced the protege's professional identity. The relationship enabled the protege to learn new research skills in writing proposals. Both of the mentors also identified, as a further outcome, the opportunity it gave them to explore their own research interests.

These reflections were analysed under the categories of mentor input, processes developed and outcomes achieved as indicated in Table 2.

Table 2: Analysis of the mentors' reflections

InputProcesses OutcomesMentor
Range of strategies usedCollaborative relationshipCritical friendMentor 2MR2
Range of strategies usedSupportProtege learnt skills in writing proposalsMentor 2MR6
Discovering a range of strategies to assist colleague (protege)Developing a professional identity of the protegeLed to further development of professional identity of mentorMentor 2MR1
Supportive relationshipNurturing roleTrust developedMentor 1 and 2MR4
CollaborationWriting literature reviews and papers, analysis of qualitative data, presentation of papersEnabled mentor 1 and 2 to explore own research interestsMentor 1 and 2MR6

Both mentors believed that they provided a supportive environment, which enabled trust to develop between us.

The role has been a nurturing one where through a trusting and supportive relationship... (mentor 2)

Through the collaborative process of jointly writing and presenting papers each of the mentors felt that their skills of qualitative data collection and analysis and literature reviews skills enabled them to further explore their own research interests but also assisted me in the development of these skills.

I've been able to bring the skills of writing ethics proposals, literature reviews, analysing qualitative data and presenting papers at conferences to the mentoring relationship.... I've gained from it in that writing collaborative papers...has provided me with a broader framework in which to contextualise my primary research focus (mentor 1).

I've been able to bring skills in literature review and qualitative data analysis to the mentoring relationship....This has afforded me the opportunity to become aware of my own skills and further explore and frame my own research (mentor2).

Mentor 2, particularly, discussed in some detail the ways in which she discovered a range of strategies that she felt assisted me in my development. The processes of support and collaboration are cited as two strategies that assisted me. Mentor 2 acted as a critical friend in the review of papers written by me and I also learnt skills in writing proposals and abstracts.

I have something to offer professionally to another colleague [and this was achieved] through a range of strategies (mentor 2).

It can be concluded, from these findings, that a pattern emerged in relation to the roles that participants played in the mentoring relationship indicating reciprocity, support and growth of understanding for all three members.

Personal reflections

In my early days working full-time at the university I formed a friendship with two of my colleagues. As this friendship developed into a collegial friendship it led me to reflect on the experiences that contributed to the mentoring in which I have been involved.

Phase 1
In the first instance, the collegial friendship was the initial phase in my mentoring relationship. In this phase, interpersonal interaction developed in a social environment in the workplace. Two colleagues and I met socially over coffee with conversations centred on our families, our work, our research and our teaching. My mentoring relationship with these colleagues developed because we were friends first in our work situation. Our mentoring relationship, which was un-orchestrated, came together in a natural and uncontrived way. These characteristics and outcomes are noted below and constitute the first phase of this mentoring relationship.

Collegial friendship mentoring
The characteristics of collegial friendship mentoring included

  1. interpersonal relationship in the workplace
  2. social meetings
  3. conversations regarding research
  4. knowledge of the informal rules of the organisation

The outcomes included

  1. network of friends developed
  2. common research interests discussed.
Once our collegial friendship was established we began to work on common research interests. Two of these were in the area of mentoring and the internship program for final year Teacher Education students. This common interest fostered joint papers being written and presented at symposiums and conferences. These shared experiences gave me the confidence to present subsequent papers. My colleagues' mentoring role provided the support, encouragement and guidance to begin my own research path. Their influence enabled me to increase my research output and link my research to my teaching at the University. Over the last two years we have co-authored a total of five papers on the Bachelor of Education Primary Internship Program at the University of Western Sydney.

The second phase of my mentoring experience was demonstrated in my personal reflections, when my two colleagues became my informal mentors. During this stage, I was guided, supported and encouraged as my two colleagues affirmed my work. Jipson and Paley (2000) described their own early relationship as "a shelter or safe space within which we can encourage, support and critique each other in the trying out of ideas, feelings and actions" (p.2). Reflecting on Jipson and Paley's experience made me aware that my mentors had also provided a 'safe haven' for me to explore ideas and discuss feelings about my work. Viewing my relationship as a 'safe haven' allowed me to understand that our relationship was based on trust and support through which I felt nurtured and more able to realise my potential as an academic.

It is through the writings of others that I have come to understand my relationship with my two colleagues. My informal mentors supported me in acquiring my own professional identity, as they are both well-known academics in their field of expertise. They provided me with opportunities that I might otherwise not have had. They took me outside my own comfort zone but in doing so they were always there supporting me within a 'safe haven'.

Zey (1991) believes that mentoring "appears to create a fundamental transformation in the way mentees perceive themselves, their careers and their relationship to and value within the organization" (p.2). This transformation was evident in my informal mentoring experience. My mentors often would confirm the work I was writing or presenting on their behalf at conferences.

Phase 2
A mutual identification of similar personality traits between mentors and proteges was reported in the literature. Kram (1991) suggests that informal relationships develop by mutual identification: mentors choose proteges whom they view as versions of themselves and proteges select mentors whom they view as role models. Certainly in my mentoring relationship with my two colleagues I was professionally attracted to them because of the role models they portrayed in their strong work ethic and their involvement in the wider university community. These role models illustrated a strong professional relationship that would guide me in my career and assist me in my early career needs for guidance, support and affirmation of my work and research. I have felt that my mentoring relationship has been one of quiet "shepherding" into areas of skill and professional learning that would eventually assist me with my long-term career goals. The characteristics and outcomes of this second phase are noted below.

Informal mentoring
The characteristics of informal mentoring included

  1. safe haven
  2. guidance and support
  3. professional dialogue
  4. affirmation of work
  5. encouragement
  6. confidence building
  7. progressing work
  8. trust developed

The outcomes included

  1. linking own research to practice of teaching
  2. common research interests
  3. exposure to new professional opportunities
  4. papers written and presented jointly

Phase 3
As my experiences continued, my mentoring relationship with my two colleagues developed a third phase. I would describe this phase as co-mentoring. The relationship in this phase changed dramatically. The relationship became more equal with each of us offering support and assistance to each other.

By encouraging me to present our joint work and represent them at conferences my mentors made me feel that they had confidence and trust in my ability. At this point in time both my mentors treated me as an equal. Our relationship is such that I am now able to identify research and funding opportunities and potential conference forums for our research dissemination. The characteristics and outcomes of the third phase are noted below.

The characteristics of co-mentoring included

  1. mutual guidance, support and encouragement
  2. equal partnership developed
  3. identification of research opportunities
  4. involvement in common research projects

The outcomes included

  1. own professional identity developed
  2. mentor role being phased out
  3. protege moving towards becoming a mentor
  4. collegial friendship forming with the protege and another early career researcher

Discussion of personal reflections

My personal reflections provided a new way of thinking about mentoring as a layered process with identifiable characteristics and outcomes evident in each layer. The literature discussed mentoring as a fairly linear process but my experiences did not support this. My personal reflections clearly supported the view that a mentoring relationship can be layered and that the layers are not separate, but in fact overlapping.

The literature also discussed the deliberate pairing of mentors and protege with mentors and protege's being carefully matched. My experiences and personal reflections do not support this formal matching of mentor and protege. Indeed, it was the coming together through collegial friendship that supported the further mentoring layers of the relationship to develop with the mentors and protege.


Data was gathered from the contents of email conversations between the protege and the mentors over the 10-month period. Initially, ten characteristics were identified which described the types of input in the email conversations. These are tabled and coded in Table 3. The emails were analysed in terms of the characteristics that had been identified above by the mentors and through my reflections.

Table 3: Initial ten characteristics identified in the email conversations

Social meetingsC1
Conversations regarding researchC2
Knowledge of informal rulesC3
Progressing workC4
Affirmation of workC5
Identification of research opportunitiesC7
Involvement in common research opportunitiesC8
Equal partnership developedC9
Seeking guidance and supportC10

The characteristics of each of the categories identified by the independent person were compared to the characteristics I had identified. A tally was made of the characteristics that were identified in the same category as mine. This tally was then calculated as a percentage and eighty per cent of the independent identification of the characteristics agreed with the characteristics that I had identified.

The conversations were further examined in terms of the involvement of each of the mentors and the protege. The email conversations clearly indicated that mentor 1 was the most active of the two mentors in the mentoring relationship. Even so the mutual relationship between the three of us showed development over time and supported the mentoring framework.

In the early phases of the relationship typical conversations included characteristics identified as social meetings (C1) and conversations regarding research (C2).

When can we have coffee and catch up? (C1)
Here's what we started talking about at lunch (referring to ideas for an abstract). (C2)

Conversations which occurred later in the relationship typically showed characteristics of involvement in research opportunities (C8), Equal partnership developing (C9) and seeking guidance and support (C10) indicated that the protege's own professional identity was being developed and that the mentor's role was being phased out.

This is my attempt at the abstract. Could I have your comments by tomorrow? (C8).
Couldn't find the journal but found the web page Response: You're brilliant (C9).
I would like some advice on how you would like the round table discussion to go at the conference (C10).

From the analysis of the email conversations and the characteristics identified to depict the conversations it was concluded that within mentoring relationships individuals contribute to the relationship in an individual way and that the skills of each of the participants complements and enhances the skills of others in the relationship.

A tally of the instances that each category occurred in the email communication is indicated in Table 4. This tally indicates that the conversations in the emails regarding the progression (10) and affirmation of work (5) were discussed most frequently. While guidance and support (1) fared less well, social meetings (4), positive feelings and research (3), while seen as important, did not feature as often as did progressing work and affirmation.

Table 4: Email characteristics tally

Characteristic nameNumber of
instances occurred
Percentage of
total responses
Seeking guidance and support14
Identification of and involvement in research opportunities312
Social meetings416
Positive feeling416
Affirmation of work520
Progressing work832

Following the analysis of both the email conversations and the personal reflections of the author and the mentors it was found that some of the characteristics could be reduced from the original ten. Several of the characteristics could be combined into one category with six characteristics resulting. Table 5 shows the new combined categories, coded as (CC).

Table 5: Combined characteristics of email and personal reflections

Original ten
Combined characteristic from the original ten characteristicsCode
Encouragement (C6), Equal partnership developed (C9)Positive feelingCC1
Progressing work (C4)Progressing workCC2
Affirmation of work (C5)Affirmation of workCC3
Conversations regarding research (C2), Identification of research opportunities (C7), Involvement in common research opportunities (C8)Identification of and involvement in, research opportunitiesCC4
Social meetings (C1)Social meetingsCC5
Seeking guidance and support (C10), Knowledge of informal rules of the organisation (C3)Seeking guidance and supportCC6

The mentor reflection characteristics (MR Table 2) were identified from the mentors inputs, processes and outcomes evident in their reflections. These characteristics were compared with the six synthesised characteristics identified in the email analysis. A common set became evident through this analysis. This common set of characteristics is depicted in Table 6.

Table 6: Common set of characteristics identified through
analysis of emails, personal and mentors' reflections

Email and personal reflections characteristicsMentor reflection characteristics Common set of characteristics
CC3: Affirmation of workMR1: Developing professional identityCS1: Professional development of protege
CC2: Progression of workMR2: Critical friendCS2: Development of professional career
CC1: Positive feelingMR3: Nurturing roleCS3: Supportive Relationship
CC5: Social meetingsMR4: Collaborative relationshipCS4: Trust developed
CC6: Seeking guidance and supportMR5: SupportCS5: Support
CC4: Identification of and involvement in, research opportunitiesMR6: Writing of literature reviews and papers, analysis of qualitative data and presentation of papersCS6: Research skills and opportunities

Through a supportive relationship with my mentors I was able to develop my research skills and opportunities. The outcome of this support and skill development was the significant enhancement of my personal professional growth and learning.

Developing the layered relationship-mentoring model

Analysis of the research, in particular my personal reflections, revealed that my mentoring experiences involved three phases. They were

The synthesis of the findings, of this study, have meant that re-evaluation of my thinking and experiences saw mentoring not as phases but rather as a series of overlapping experiences. These experiences can be schematically described as a set of layers (Figure 4). The data has shown that there were not distinct phases but rather the mentoring relationship and its characteristics moved between the layers and also that the layers overlapped as indicated in Figure 4. There was not a distinct break between each layer but rather the process merged one layer into the other. From the three sources of data collected and the results of this research I was able to formulate a new way of thinking about mentoring, which has led to the development of the "Layered Relationship-Mentoring Model".

Figure 4

Figure 4: Layered relationship mentoring model for early career development

The focus of this layer of the mentoring relationship was on the development of an interpersonal relationship with the mentors and the protege. The characteristics of layer 1 now being

Layer 2, the Informal Mentoring layer became apparent when my two colleagues became my mentors. The focus in this layer of the relationship was on the protege's professional learning and development. The characteristics of layer 2 were

Layer 3, the Co-mentoring layer, developed because of the interpersonal dynamics of the relationship. The relationship became equal with support and guidance being offered by each of the participants in the relationship. The focus in this layer of the relationship was on an equal partnership and equal status of each of the participants. The characteristic of layer 3 were

The mentors conversations in the emails and their reflections of the mentoring relationship provided evidence of the roles that each participant played in the mentoring relationship. The roles of the mentors were examined in relation to each of the layers of the mentoring model developed.

Implications for professional learning and future development

This research showed that collegial friendships could lead to professional learning by colleagues through the 'Layered Relationship-Mentoring Model'. The challenge for managers of organisations is to determine how collegial friendships can be fostered in the work environment. Senior management need to identify the steps that can be taken within their organisational climate to encourage and support these relationships. Within organisations, planning decisions need to be determined to identify and develop strategies that can capitalise on mentoring opportunities. Care needs to be taken that these opportunities do not become forced.

The findings from this research also indicated that there is reciprocity in mentoring relationships. The findings suggest that each participant brings knowledge and skills to the relationship and that these skills and knowledge can be complementary to each other. Not only do the participants contribute certain knowledge and skills but also because of these skills the roles they play in the mentoring relationship can vary from one participant to another. In other words, the success of the mentoring relationship depends on the extent to which vital roles are available from the individual repertoires of the participants.

The "Layered Relationship-Mentoring Model for Early Career Development" described in this paper is a strategy that can be utilised in the higher education setting. Although not used in this study discussions with colleagues have suggested collegial opportunities for promotion of the development of mentoring relationships could include staff colloquia, social functions, internal faculty conferences for the presentation of joint papers, faculty grants established for joint research work and writing and training availability for mentoring. The model also could be established as a process of mentoring for early career researchers. Given the limitations as discussed in the literature of a formal mentoring program being established, an early career mentoring program based on this model could be initiated where time and opportunities for collegial friendships to be established could be encouraged and indeed nurtured at the Faculty level. In higher education organisations the status of the mentor need not be hierarchical but rather friendships may be based on identified research interests, needs or areas of expertise. For this reason alone, formal mentoring programs which are usually based on a more senior person mentoring a less senior person is not an effective mentoring system to develop in higher education. The "Layered Relationship-Mentoring Model for Early Career Researchers" is useful as it is not engineered but is spontaneous in its creation and development and should be recognised as such with appropriate time allowances built into the work profile.

Further research

This study has indicated the tensions and dichotomies that exist in exploring the structural and organisational approaches to developing mentoring relationships. In particular, there are challenges for organisations when considering mentoring, specifically informal mentoring relationships, as the relationships are formed spontaneously and sometimes serendipitously.

To further explore this layered model more research needs to be done both within and outside the higher education environment. Further questions that should be asked are

It has been my vision that elements of my experiences in the mentoring relationship that I have had with my colleagues could be developed into a professional learning program for early career researchers and that Faculties of Education would have a strong commitment to developing a mentoring program for this group of academics by encouraging conversations and collegial friendships to occur. The mentoring that has been developed with my colleagues has been a critical element in my professional learning and academic development. My professional learning increased because of the 'wise counsel' I have received from my two mentors through the development of a layered relationship: A true mentoring experience.


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Authors: Maggie is the Academic Co-ordinator of Professional Experience (Secondary Program) at the University of Western Sydney. She is in the final stage of her Ed. D completion. Her research for her doctoral studies focussed on professional learning and the strategies that can enhance this learning including, mentoring practices, reflective journals and learning portfolios. Maggie has presented her research at a number of international and national conferences including AARE, ATEA, PEPE and HERDSA and papers can be found on their websites. Email: m.clarke@uws.edu.au

Please cite as: Clarke, M. (2004). Reconceptualising mentoring: Reflections by an early career researcher. Issues In Educational Research, 14(2), 121-143. http://www.iier.org.au/iier14/clarke.html

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