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The University of Cincinnati College of Medicine (UCCOM), including all its academic departments and programs, is committed to providing a supportive learning environment to promote the development, education, training, and success of graduate students.
Faculty mentorship is a critical part of student learning, training, and professional development. Students work very closely with faculty mentors on research and academic projects, and the relationship between a student and their advisor can add to or detract from the success or failure of the trainee. Ultimately, graduate student mentors are powerful role models and play an essential part in shaping the professional identity of the trainee. However, despite the importance of graduate student mentoring, not all mentors take advantage of opportunities to receive formal mentoring training. As such, it is important that universities have policies in place to address concerns about graduate student mentoring to ensure the best outcome for the trainee.
While UCCOM graduate programs all require a written agreement between the mentor and graduate student stating expectations for the relationship on both sides, there are times when problems arise that can result in a fractured relationship that may leave graduate students in a vulnerable position and not receiving optimal training. This policy describes such scenarios and provides both faculty and students with guidance as to the expected processes for remediation or in extreme circumstances cessation of the relationship. In situations of very high concern for a student’s wellbeing a student may be immediately removed from a laboratory environment. In situations that call for this the Dean of the College of Medicine will make the final decision.
It should also be clearly stated that the graduate student, as an adult trainee, is the other half of the mentoring relationship, and is thus responsible for attending classes, submitting work in a timely manner, setting up meetings with the mentor, preparing adequately for committee meetings, and seeking help with underdeveloped skill sets. The student must also understand the role of the mentor and not assume unrealistic expectations.
Definition of Strong Mentoring:
A successful mentoring relationship is one characterized by reciprocity, mutual respect between faculty mentor and student, clearly defined expectations and goals, personal and professional connection, shared values, and recognition and mitigation of power imbalances. There should be a commitment by the mentor to provide optimal guidance and training of their student. In addition, the mentor needs understand that their mentoring needs to be tailored to the students specific needs, as that these vary from student-to-student. Identifying what their student needs and adapting their mentoring is usually vital. In addition, good mentoring relationships are also characterized by the student taking the advice and guidance of their mentor and showing initiative, responsibility, and motivation in their training.
Problematic Mentoring Relationships:
Flawed mentoring relationships lack these qualities, and may be further impacted by poor communication, lack of commitment, irreconcilable personality differences, unnecessary competition (whether perceived or real), conflicts of interest, and power dynamics that make students vulnerable. The examples below in isolation do not necessarily indicate a flawed mentoring relationship, but an aggregate of problems and/or lack of communication between the mentor and student can signal a deterioration of the relationship that may require intervention. It is also possible that while one student may experience a problem(s) with their mentor other students in the lab may not necessarily experience the same problem(s).
Characteristics of problems in mentoring of students includes, but is not limited to, the following behaviors:
Process for Reporting Problems in Mentoring:
The goal of this policy is to try to offer a process to mitigate problems at an early stage whenever possible at the local level through the graduate program leadership but also provide a clear avenue to review by college level graduate program leadership as needed. As such, there are multiple ways for graduate students to raise concerns about mentoring including:
If the student is uncomfortable speaking directly with their mentor to resolve problems, or has done so without resolution, we encourage students to raise their concerns with their Graduate Program Coordinator. The Program Coordinator can then go to the Program Director if the issue (s) still cannot be resolved. Students may also contact their Program Director or Co-Director directly. Students who are uncomfortable discussing a problem with their program leadership may contact (by email) the Associate Dean or Assistant Dean in the Office of Graduate Education (OGE). The student may also submit a report through a centralized URL which will be handled as detailed below. If the problem is resolved by the student talking with the program Coordinator or Program Director or Co-Director, Associate or Assistant Dean then the student does not have to submit a report unless they want to.
Report Process for addressing Problems in Mentoring:
All reports of mentoring problems/deficiencies are sent to the Associate Dean of the Office of Graduate Education for centralized tracking of incidents and interventions. Those reports made through the URL will prompt an email notification to the Associate Dean of Graduate Education. The reports are documented and the cumulative student reports pertaining to a mentor will be maintained and monitored by the COM Office of Graduate Education.
Only the Senior Associate Dean for Research & Graduate Education and Associate Dean for Graduate Education will have authorized access to submitted reports, however, they may share the reports with appropriate stakeholders at their discretion and in accordance with the procedures outlined herein. Given the intimate nature of the relationship between faculty mentor and graduate student and the potential need for swift action, reports of problematic / deficiencies in mentoring will not be anonymous. The Senior Associate Dean and Associate Dean will make every reasonable effort to de-identify the reporting student, to the extent permissible under the circumstances, when sharing the report with stakeholders outside of the Office of Graduate Education.
Upon the receipt of a student report of problematic / deficiencies in mentoring, the Associate Dean will have ten (10) business days to contact the reporting student and give notice of the report to the Graduate Program Director. If the mentor is also the Program Director, then the chair of the department will be notified. The Senior Associate Dean and Associate Dean will schedule separate meetings with the student making the report, the mentor, and the Program Director. After discussing the report, the Senior Associate Dean and Associate Dean will contact the mentor for a discussion of the alleged problems, with the goal of finding a mutually beneficial outcome among all parties. However, they may, at their discretion, require that the mentor participate in remediation activities as outlined below. The Senior Associate Dean and Associate Dean may also dismiss the allegation if they determine that the report does not meet the criteria, or that the student bears some or all the responsibility. In either case the OGE will provide written responses to the student, mentor, and program director outlining the reason(s) for the final decision. The student has the right to file a grievance with the graduate college if they do not agree with the finding and recommendations from the COM Office of Graduate Education.
Remediation of problematic mentoring may include, but is not limited to, the following:
Formation of Mentoring Disciplinary Committee
If, during the six (6) month remediation period, the Senior Associate Dean or Associate Dean determines that the mentor has failed to attend the relevant course or follow the remediation plan, the Senior Associate Dean or Associate Dean may initiate the formation of a disciplinary committee. The disciplinary committee will be composed of the following members appointed by the Senior Associate Dean or Associate Dean:
The ad hoc disciplinary committee will meet first within two (2) to four (4) weeks of its formation and will meet regularly, but no less than monthly, thereafter, until it comes to a final decision regarding the potential discipline of the mentor. Only after the committee has made its final decision, may the Senior Associate Dean and Associate Dean dissolve the committee. At the discretion of the Senior Associate Dean and Associate Dean and upon the failure of satisfactory remediation by the mentor, the ad hoc committee may be reconvened to discuss further discipline of the mentor in accordance with the aforementioned procedures. The committee may also be reconvened if the student reports that they are still receiving poor mentoring despite the mentor going through remediation.
Discipline for problematic mentoring may include, but is not limited to, the following:
Retaliation for Reporting
Retaliation for reporting mentoring problems is not tolerated. Any incident of alleged retaliation toward a graduate student should be reported to the Associate Dean for further investigation. The Associate Dean will also provide recommendations to the student for which University policies and procedures are most pertinent and appropriate to their situation. Students should familiarize themselves with University policies and procedures relating to discrimination and harassment that are available on these UC websites:
While this policy is directed at protecting students from mentoring problems, fraudulent reports submitted by the student for retaliation or perceived slights by the mentor will also not be tolerated. Should such motives be uncovered during the processes described above, the student will be required to meet with the Program Director and Associate Dean of Graduate Education. Resulting remediation will be at the discretion of Graduate Education Leadership in accordance with student codes of conduct.
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