Mentorship in the Common Law Section

Why mentorship?

According to numerous studies, university academics who have a mentor benefit from a higher level of satisfaction, better work conditions, faster promotions, better work-life balance, and stay with the same institution for longer.

A choice of mentorship models

University academics in the Common Law Section have a range of mentorship models to choose from: informal mentorship in the Common Law Section; more formal mentorship organized by the Common Law Section; and the formal mentorship organized by the University of Ottawa. And of course one can decide not to choose the mentorship route. The choice is up to you.

Informal mentorship in the Common Law Section

New colleagues meet with the Assistant Dean or Vice Dean Research soon after their arrival. They often raise the issue that they have a lot of questions, “a bit obvious” in their eyes, regarding teaching, research, publishing, administrative tasks, interactions between colleagues, etc. Most of these questions are not “a bit obvious” at all -- they are serious and important, especially for those who ask them!

The informal mentorship allows colleagues to identify a list of two or three colleagues with whom they might like to discuss these and other work-related questions. The Research Office then discusses the possibility of an informal mentorship with the colleagues who have been identified. Generally they are pleased and flattered to be asked to perform this role, so there is no difficulty completing the circle, putting mentee in touch with mentor. It is usual to confirm just one mentor.

Given that the mentor has already enthusiastically agreed to the proposed mentorship, one should not hesitate to ask him or her all the questions that come to mind. We can, of course, count on other colleagues, and on the Research Office, but we are, generally speaking, particularly comfortable interacting with a colleague selected beforehand.

Why call this mentorship “informal”? There is nothing obligatory about mentorship. We have devised mentorship programs in the event that professors, new or more experienced, feel the need to take advantage of them. And of course professors are in no way obliged to take on the role of mentor. Having said that, we are convinced the both of the professors involved in mentorship are likely to benefit from it. But the choice is yours, as we have already noted. Mentorship is also informal because there are other more formal mentorship arrangements that exist at the level of the Common Law Section and at the level of the University. These are described below.

More formal mentorship organized by the Common Law Section

The more formal mentorship contemplates a team of two mentors. These can be inside the faculty and university or outside. The perspectives of a professor outside the faculty can be immensely valuable; however, one should be aware that the role of mentor will probably make this person unavailable for tenure evaluation or other similar processes where arms-length relationships are relevant.

With that in mind, here are some of the principles with animate the more formal mentorship model:

  1. Those who wish to take advantage of mentorship opportunities should send an application to either the Vice Dean Research, Penelope Simons (Penelope.Simons@uOttawa.ca), or the Assistant Dean Research, Cintia Quiroga (Cintia.Quiroga@uOttawa.ca) indicating the names of possible mentors, whether those mentors are inside or outside the Faculty of Law. The Research Office will then contact the relevant professors and make the relevant arrangements.
  2. In order to avoid any potential conflicts, the mentors should not generally be persons with whom the mentee has professional commitments such as grant applications or writing projects. A mentor-mentee relationship does not prevent future academic co-operation however; in fact, it may make that more likely.
  3. Mentorship normally involves an initial two-year commitment that would then be renewable, assuming all participants agree to this. If at any point the mentor or mentee wish for whatever reason to end the mentorship arrangement before the end of the period originally contemplated, they may do so simply by informing the Research Office.
  4. The relationship is governed by strict confidentiality: all discussions and information passed among mentors and mentees must be kept in confidence.
  5. Ideally, mentorship meetings take place once a month and last approximately one hour.  With respect to the external mentor, a three-way telephone call, FaceTime or Skype each semester is also suggested.
  6. During the first meeting/call the mentor and mentee can agree on the frequency, form, duration and subject matter to be discussed in future meetings. It would also be helpful for the mentee to provide in advance their cv, research plans, and the specific areas or topics on which s/he would like the mentoring to focus.
  7. The choice of mentor is generally made with a mind to identifying research areas and/or teaching interests that the mentor and mentee have in common, as well as other communalities (linguistic, cultural, etc.)

Formal mentorship organized by the University

This form of mentorship, organized by the Centre for Academic Leadership, opens up the possibility of meeting a professor from outside the Faculty of Law through arrangements made outside the Common Law Section. While there are clearly benefits to being able to ask questions to a colleague in the Faculty of Law, It may be that there are also advantages to being able to ask questions to a professor from another faculty. Again, it is for you to decide what suits you best. Keep in mind that it is also possible to run two forms of mentorship at the same time. In order to find information on the formal mentorship organized by the University, please consult the information found here.

Is there a model of mentorship for me?

Mentorship schemes are designed with particular attention to the need for new professors to get off to as good a start as possible in their academic career. However, it is important to keep in mind that mentorship is valuable at any point in a career. For example, a professor in the middle part of a career may be looking for advice on promotion, or insight and inspiration in order to head off in a new research, teaching or administrative direction. A professor who learned the ropes in an earlier generation may need mentorship from a newer scholar on how to master the art of Academe 2.0: Twitter, blogs, websites, etc. And no doubt there are other possibilities and combinations that can easily be grafted onto the models set out above … or a new model invented as need be. Just get in touch with the Research Office, and we would be delighted to help.

All Common Law mentorships will be reviewed on an annual basis, in order to ensure that the process is working well. Mentees and mentors should feel free to contact the Research Office at any time if they have concerns about the mentoring experience.

It is our hope that every colleague will find themselves on a path to an academic career which is full of satisfaction, challenge, curiosity, success, friendship, etc.

Please do let us know if you have any questions.

Penelope Simons
Vice-Dean Research
Penelope.Simons@uOttawa.ca
Phone: x 3217

Cintia Quiroga
Assistant Dean, Research
cintia.quiroga@uottawa.ca
Phone: x 7993

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