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Critical mentorship: Benefits and practices for mentors to subvert toxic norms in mentor-mentee relationships

Critical mentorship practices disrupt advisor-student relationships that often dismiss students’ values, goals, and position in academia’s power hierarchy and provide actions advisors can take to support student-defined success and retention in chemistry.

Published onOct 03, 2023
Critical mentorship: Benefits and practices for mentors to subvert toxic norms in mentor-mentee relationships

Student-advisor relationships are a vital predictor of retention in chemistry degrees and careers. Graduate students who are minoritized by their race, ethnicity, and or other oppressed identities experience poor mentorship more often than their peers who are members of overrepresented and privileged groups (Stockard et al., 2022). Poor mentorship in chemistry is characterized by advisors’ unprofessional communication, a lack of time, interest in, and contribution to students’ professional growth (Stockard et al., 2022), and expectations that are unclear and incongruent with students’ values and goals (Brauer et al., 2022). Further, retention in chemistry is impacted by a lack or total absence of resources and funding (Stockard et al., 2022; Wilson et al., 2014), wellness and mental health services, ways to voice concerns without retaliation (Stachl et al., 2019), and graduate student-guided counterspaces (Stachl et al., 2022; Stockard et al., 2022) – all of which are structures, spaces, and priorities advisors have the power and often the positionality to influence. Critical mentorship is one way advisors might better understand their graduate students’ concerns, values, and goals and challenge the toxic norms that result in toxic mentor-mentee relationships and, thus, equity gaps in retention (Manongsong & Ghosh, 2023; McAloney, 2021; Weiston-Serdan & Sánchez, 2017).

The critical mentorship infographic synthesizes findings and implications from studies exploring how Women of Color experienced mentor-mentee relationships in higher education (Manongsong & Ghosh, 2023) and STEM (Nkruman & Scotis, 2022), The Liberatory Mentorship for Women of Color framework (McAloney, 2021), and critical mentoring practices grounded in Critical Race Theory, Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, and Intersectionality (Weiston-Serdan & Sánchez, 2017). As described by the first header, the three primary components of critical mentorship ask mentors to (1) build trust, connections, and belonging with mentees, (2) address their positionality and how they exist in oppressive systems, including academia, and (3) make mentee-focused research plans and professional goals. The second section describes the outcomes and benefits of each critical mentorship component, as noted by the corresponding colors (Manongsong & Ghosh, 2023; McAloney, 2021; Weiston-Serdan & Sánchez, 2017). The final section provides some action items for advisors who wish to practice critical mentorship. Those action items listed are a result of the critical mentorship literature synthesis (Manongsong & Ghosh, 2023; McAloney, 2021; Nkruman & Scotis, 2022; Weiston-Serdan & Sánchez, 2017), as well as suggestions from business management (Holdt Christensen, 2007), higher education studies (Butz et al., 2019), and chemistry education researchers (Rohlfing et al., 2022; Stachl et al., 2019; Stockard et al., 2022; Wilson et al., 2014). It is important to note the three components of critical mentorship and their color-coded action items are interconnected and must be practiced simultaneously to best support students and disrupt toxic norms.

Figure 1


[1] Manongsong, A. M., & Ghosh, R. (2023). Living at the intersections of race and gender in diversified mentoring: Experiences of minoritzed women leaders in higher education. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 1-32.

[2] McAloney, K. (2021). Virtual Liberatory Women of Color Mentorship [Dissertation]. Oregon State University.

[3] Weiston-Serdan, T., & Sánchez, B. (2017). Critical mentoring: A practical guide. Stylus.

[4]Nkrumah, T., & Scotis, K. A. (2022). Mentoring in STEM higher education: A synthesis of the literature to (re)present the excluded women of color. International Journal of STEM Education, 9(1), 50.

[5]Holdt Christensen, P. (2007). Knowledge sharing: Moving away from the obsession with best practices. Journal of Knowledge Management, 11(1), 36–47.

[6] Butz, A. R., Spencer, K., Thayer-Hart, N., Cabrera, I. E., & Byars-Winston, A. (2019). Mentors’ motivation to address race/ethnicity in research mentoring relationships. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 12(3), 242–254.

[7] Stachl, C. N., Hartman, E. C., Wemmer, D. E., & Francis, M. B. (2019). Grassroots efforts to quantify and improve the academic climate of an R1 STEM department: Using evidence-based discussions to foster community. Journal of Chemical Education, 96(10), 2149–2157.

[8]Stockard, J., Noviski, M., Rohlfing, C. M., Richmond, G. L., & Lewis, P. (2022). The chemistry graduate student experience: Findings from an ACS survey. Journal of Chemical Educa2on, 99(1), 461–468.

[9]Rohlfing, C. M., Richmond, G. L., Noviski, M., Lewis, P., & Stockard, J. (2022). Policies and practices to improve the chemistry graduate student experience: Implications of the ACS survey of graduate students. Journal of Chemical Education, 99(1), 10–13.

[10] Wilson, Z. S., McGuire, S. Y., Limbach, P. A., Doyle, M. P., Marzilli, L. G., & Warner, I. M. (2014). Diversifying Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM): An inquiry into successful approaches in chemistry. Journal of Chemical Education, 91(11), 1860–1866.

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