Palgrave Teaching and Learning

by Sally Brown (Series Editor)

Mentoring as CPD for academics

Elaine Mowat, Edinburgh Napier University


Whether you are a mentor or a mentee, a mentoring relationship has much to offer for your continuing professional development as an academic.

For mentees, mentoring is a chance to gain tailored support from a colleague who has relevant experience, along with enthusiasm for helping others. For mentors, mentoring is an opportunity to reflect on your own knowledge and consider how best to share it. As recognised by its inclusion in Descriptors 3 and 4 of the UK Professional Standards Framework (HEA, 2011), mentoring can represent a significant expression of academic leadership. This is not about telling mentees what to do, but drawing on your insights to help colleagues flourish through a stimulating blend of support and challenge, or, more memorably put, through a combination of ‘backbone and heart’ (O’Neill, 2007) and ‘fearless compassion’ (Hawkins and Smith, 2006).

For both parties, mentoring is a chance for valuable reflective space and a meaningful relationship, where mutual learning emerges through shared listening, respect and curiosity, and often a good amount of laughter too!

Mentoring at different career stages

Mentoring in academia has traditionally been associated with an older, wiser colleague guiding a more junior member of staff. However, a developmental, non-directive approach to mentoring, where the relationship is driven by the mentee’s learning goals and interests, highlights that mentoring is something we can all use in different ways at different stages in our career. We can be mentored through our first year of teaching, publishing our first article, becoming adept with technology, taking on a new leadership role, or balancing the competing demands of a career in teaching and research – as Clutterbuck (2014) suggests, ‘Everyone needs a mentor’. Mentoring can also involve all kinds of relationship groupings and contexts, such as peer mentoring, reverse mentoring, mentoring circles and e-mentoring.

Making mentoring work for you

Although not always the answer to a particular development need, there is no doubt that mentoring forms part of the complex mosaic of relationships and activities that helps us to become who we are meant to be.
  • Whatever stage you are at in your career, you may usefully consider: ‘Who can mentor me for the challenges I am currently addressing? And who am I well-placed to mentor towards reaching their goals and realising their potential?’.
  • Mentoring pairs can be formed through informal contacts, and many universities and professional bodies also have formal mentoring schemes that will match you with a suitable mentoring partner.
  • A good scheme will also guide you on aspects such as contracting, and managing confidentiality and boundaries.
  • If you are mentoring under your own steam, it is a good idea to familiarise yourself with these issues to help ensure that your mentoring experience is both effective and ethical.

Read more about it

For further reading, Alred and Garvey’s book (2010) provides a digestible and worthwhile overview of the issues. Connor and Pokora (2012) provide an insightful and practical account of effective practice, drawing on Gerard Egan’s influential ‘Skilled Helper’ model. Megginson and Clutterbuck’s text (2009) offers a thoughtful collection of approaches to working within developmental relationships. Brockbank and McGill (2012) present an exciting account of learning through reflective dialogue and a clear articulation of the transformational potential of this form of professional development.


Alred, G. and Garvey, B. (2010) The Mentoring Pocketbook, 3rd edn, Alresford: Management Pocketbooks Ltd.

Brockbank, A. and McGill, I. (2012) Facilitating Reflective Learning: Coaching, mentoring & supervision, 2nd edn, London: Kogan Page.

Clutterbuck, D. (2014) Everyone Needs a Mentor, 5th edn, London: Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development.

Connor, M. and Pokora, J. (2012) Coaching & Mentoring at Work: Developing effective practice, 2nd edn, Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Hawkins, P. and Smith, N. (2006) Coaching, Mentoring and Organizational Consultancy: Supervision and development. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

HEA (2011) The UK Professional Standards Framework for Teaching and Supporting Learning in Higher Education. Available from

Megginson, D. and Clutterbuck, D. (2005) Techniques for Coaching and Mentoring. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Megginson, D. and Clutterbuck, D. (2009) Further Techniques for Coaching and Mentoring. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.

O’Neill, M.B. (2007) Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart: A systems approach to engaging leaders with their challenges, 2nd edn, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.