restricted access 21 Mentoring in Bioethics: Possibilities and Problems
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c h a p t e r t w e n t y - o n e Mentoring in Bioethics Possibilities and Problems j a m e s f . c h i l d r e s s , ph.d. While delaying the preparation of this essay on mentoring in bioethics—and wondering why, in a moment of weakness, I had blithely agreed to write it—I had opportunities to interact with several former graduate students, as well as a few former teachers, and these interactions reminded me just how much I have bene fited from both sets of relationships. The debt to former teachers, advisers, and mentors is obvious: The careers we now have as teachers and scholars in ethics would not have been possible without their e¤orts. Though less obvious, the debt to former graduate students, and to newcomers to the field, is nonetheless quite important. It is gratifying to witness young ethicists’ progress in research, teaching , and other activities. Comments by former graduate students—during my visits to their current institutions or in letters or in copies of their recently published books—helped to focus and shape my reflections on mentoring. Usage of the term mentor as “wise counselor,” which dates to the mid-eighteenth century, derives ultimately from the character Mentor in the Odyssey and penultimately from the prominence Fénelon gave the same character in a French romance at the end of the seventeenth century. When Odysseus decided to undertake the expedition against Troy, Mentor, a long-time friend, agreed to oversee his household and take care of his young son, Telemachus. Mentor’s noteworthy characteristics included friendship, integrity, honesty, and a willingness to speak out. When the goddess Athena wanted to assist Odysseus or Telemachus, she sometimes assumed Mentor’s bodily form and spoke through his voice—for in- stance, to provide instructions to the young Telemachus about his journey to find out about his father. Despite this derivation, there is considerable uncertainty about the nature, possibilities , and limits of mentoring, and hence about the responsibilities and privileges of mentors and mentees. I will draw on a small portion of the vast conceptual , theoretical, and empirical literature. Much of the literature focuses on specific contexts of mentoring, and I recognize that conclusions about mentoring clinical psychologists or high school teachers, for instance, may not fully apply to graduate training and professional development in ethics and bioethics. Nevertheless, several points from this literature are useful and may be illuminating. narrative of a successful mentorship W. Brad Johnson (2002) presents the following narrative as an example of a “successful mentorship.” It o¤ers a way into several conceptual, normative, and empirical questions and observations about mentoring. A first-year graduate student (Tim) approached an associate professor (Dr. Guide) in a clinical psychology doctoral program about the possibility of a mentoring relationship, in part because Dr. Guide was known as both “an excellent teacher and a productive scholar.” However, because she was concerned about the demands on her limited time and recognized the importance of compatibility between mentor and mentee, she was selective in making a commitment to mentorships. Hence, she informed Tim that she would be unable to accept a new protégé until one of her current prot égés graduated and, in addition, she would need to spend a year as his formal adviser in order to determine their “potential match in scholarly interest, career objectives, and personality.” After a year Dr. Guide determined that Tim was hard working, capable, sincerely interested in her research, and able to contribute constructively to her scholarly projects. She agreed to mentor Tim and scheduled a meeting to discuss mutual expectations for the relationship—included anticipated duration, her policy on confidentiality in mentorships, frequency of contact, and cross-gender concerns. For example, she elicited agreement from Tim that both would work to maintain good professional boundaries. Dr. Guide further solicited from Tim a description of his “ideal” career trajectory, with emphasis on his early career dream (a faculty position in a medical school or clinical graduate program). Dr. Guide began directing Tim toward important professional opportunities, including teaching and research assistantships , coauthorship on articles and conference papers, and top-notch clinical m e n t o r i n g i n b i o e t h i c s 261 practicum placements. She introduced him to colleagues at conferences and included him as a cotherapist, coteacher, and coresearcher on di¤erent occasions so...