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Five people appear throughout this illustration. To the left is a light complexioned man in a suit and tie sitting at a desk with a laptop and a coffee cup. At center are two people interacting. A dark complexioned woman with long hair is standing, holding a notebook, and wearing a blue-green shirt and blue pants. She is facing right toward a large poster. A lighter complexioned man stands to the poster's right. He appears to be explaining the graphs shown on the poster. At right is a man with a medium brown complexion and a beard wearing a yellow shirt and blue pants. He is facing a woman seen from the back sitting at a desk on a roller chair. She is wearing a pink long-sleeved top and a blue skirt, and has a lighter complexion. She is in front of a laptop. They are both touching a sheet of paper. In the background, a trail of small, blue star icons starts at left and loops toward the top before it flows to the right, connecting the people at far left and right. Stars and planets also appear along the top.

Mentorships help our staff develop a greater sense of belonging and cultivate work satisfaction, positively influencing the institute’s culture.

About This Article

Have you ever started a new job and realized that despite the initial training you received, you feel lost or don’t belong? It’s an experience that can apply to anyone, no matter how many years you’ve worked or how much education you’ve earned. But there is a proven way to foster a greater sense of belonging: a robust mentorship program.

At the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), we regularly connect more experienced employees with newer staff who are either still finding their way or looking for advice from someone who can help guide their career choices. STScI also offers mentorship to help employees carve out safe spaces for difficult conversations and give them freedom to excel. In 2023, we launched an updated research-based mentorship program to help make these professional relationships even more valuable. Here, we sample a few of our parameters.

Mentees largely select mentors: This helps mentees “own” the process, direct their careers, and establish successful relationships. If a mentee would like the program coordinator’s support, we help match mentees to mentors.

At least two mentors per mentee: There’s no single human who can answer every question! Plus, it’s often best to separate career development from socioemotional and psychosocial support. Not only does this lead to a lower time commitment for each mentor, it also allows mentees to feel more fully supported.

A mentor for career development: These relationships fully focus on career guidance. Mentees who are junior staff are often beginning to understand the realities of our field, and deciding which paths to take. Career mentors should have deep experience in relevant skill sets or know how to connect a mentee to training opportunities. These mentors also serve as sponsors who acknowledge and share their mentee’s achievements, which is particularly important for mentees who are underrepresented in astronomy.

… and a mentor for social support: These relationships aim to cultivate safe spaces where mentees can share honest concerns about potential professional stressors. They are also centered on career development, but begin by building trust, and identifying common interests and values. Mentors may share their professional experiences, including their career trajectory and how they navigated challenges. With this additional support, mentees may progressively feel a greater sense of belonging and acclimate to our field.

The duration may vary: The mentor-mentee relationship typically lasts for a year, but may continue if it remains beneficial to both participants. When colleagues choose to end these partnerships, our program coordinator obtains feedback through formal evaluations, surfacing important details that will improve the program for future mentors and mentees.

Successful mentorship programs require commitment from more than the participants. An organization must support and run these initiatives. STScI intentionally runs mentorship programs because they are great investments in our staff. Not only do these relationships benefit both mentees and mentors, they also positively contribute to our overall work culture, one where we are all welcome to share ideas, and contribute to or lead initiatives. Over time, mentorship programs can help break down barriers, ensuring more staff feel a sense of belonging and are empowered to excel. These programs also help us plan for leadership development and succession, ensuring the institute continues to be a valuable contributor to the field of astronomy.

Mentor Responsibilities

Mentors serve as coaches, educators, advocates, and connectors. They must all seek to: 

  • Help create safe spaces for candid conversations 
  • Be active listeners 
  • Foster mentees’ growth and development 
  • Help mentees build connections 
  • Respect mentees’ boundaries 
  • Challenge mentees by collaboratively setting goals and expectations

Mentee Responsibilities

Mentees must take an active role to benefit. Participants should: 

  • Match with mentors who inspire them and have similar interests 
  • Collaboratively develop and pursue their goals 
  • Be active listeners
  • Be receptive to feedback
  • Respect mentors’ boundaries
  • Share their knowledge

Mentorship Coordinator Responsibilities

In addition to facilitating the program, this crucial contributor also: 

  • Helps pair mentees to mentors when requested 
  • Assists mentors and mentees as they develop their relationships 
  • Checks in at critical intervals to make sure the relationships are working well 
  • Ensures program evaluations are submitted, and analyzes and shares the results