New study explores individual differences in students’ perceptions and use of undergraduate mentoring

Goodman-Wilson, M. (2021). Individual differences in student perceptions and utilization of undergraduate mentoring. Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning, 29(3), 328–348.

Summarized by Ariel Ervin 

Notes of Interest: 

  • Although college academic mentoring can make a significant impact on one’s undergraduate experience, there is a limited amount of studies that explore how psychological individual difference factors affect mentoring relationships.
  • This study examines the following:
    • How often are mentees utilizing their mentors
    • Mentees’ satisfaction with the mentoring program
    • The relationship between individual features of mentoring (such as interpersonal support and academic planning) and mentoring satisfaction
    • If there are predictable differences in students’ perceptions of mentorship
  • Most of the participants stated that they reached out to their mentors for mentoring purposes more often than is necessary for course planning.
  • College students’ comfort with receiving advice from their mentors was the best predictor of how often they interacted with their mentors.
  • College students who have attachment avoidance were less comfortable with receiving advice from a mentor on personal issues.
  • College students’ depression and social anxiety symptoms are negatively associated with their eagerness to reach out to a mentor for advice, in addition to their satisfaction with their mentoring relationships.

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

Although academic mentors often play an important role in an undergraduate’s experience, the mentor-mentee relationship at the college level is not a topic that has received significant empirical attention. I administered questionnaires to 105 undergraduates in order to assess their utilization of their mentor and satisfaction with the mentorship program. The relationship between individual aspects of mentoring (e.g. academic planning; interpersonal support) and overall satisfaction with mentorship received were also examined. I also assessed whether there were predictable individual differences in students’ perceptions of mentorship, focused particularly on their affective symptomatology and adult attachment style. Results indicated that students’ symptoms of depression and social anxiety were significantly negatively associated with their willingness to seek their mentor’s counsel and take their advice, and with their overall satisfaction with the mentorship they received. Similar negative associations were found amongst students higher in attachment insecurity.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

With the present study, I have offered an important contribution to the field of mentorship research by focusing on the under-examined relationship between college students and their academic mentors. I am able to provide new information regarding what specific components of mentorship students find most valuable. Furthermore, the hypothesis that individual difference variables related to affective symptomologies and attachment styles would relate to experiences of mentorship was supported.

Although a college mentor’s primary role may be in academic advising, it is likely (and, at many institutions, encouraged) that students engage with their mentors for a variety of other issues. With respect to my research questions related to the frequency and type of contact between students and their mentors, findings support this assumption, as a majority of participants reported interacting with their mentors specifically for mentorship purposes with greater frequency than would be required for academic course planning. Interestingly, when examining the question of which aspects of mentoring were most responsible for students’ frequency of contact and satisfaction, it was the student’s own comfort seeking personal advice from their mentors that best predicted the frequency of meetings. This finding further supports the idea that these additional meetings are for purposes beyond academic support. Although a mentor’s effectiveness in course planning was a significant predictor of ratings of their overall effectiveness, it was by no means the only significant factor. Variables more related to interpersonal interactions between student and mentor, such as mentor concern for student wellbeing, remained significantly predictive of overall effectiveness, even when controlling for the influence of course planning. Although these findings are not necessarily surprising, they may provide valuable information for mentors uncertain of what role they should serve. Students appear to be most satisfied when receiving whole person mentoring (focused on both personal and academic/professional goals, and with an emphasis on caring and compassion; Cramer & Prentice-Dunn, 2007), rather than mentorship focused only on their academic program.

As hypothesized, the findings also demonstrated considerable individual difference in students’ utilization and evaluation of their mentors. Unsurprisingly, students higher in attachment avoidance – which, in adulthood, is characterized by a high level of independence and a rejection of close relationships (Mikulincher & Shaver, 2016) – reported being less comfortable seeking their mentor’s advice on personal matters. Symptoms of social anxiety were likewise negatively associated with students’ comfort in actively seeking advice. Attachment anxiety was a significant predictor of several variables relating to how students evaluated their mentors, including mentors’ availability, concern for students’ personal wellbeing and overall effectiveness. This makes sense, as individuals higher in attachment anxiety are often dissatisfied with the perceived availability and interest of their relationship partners (Collins & Feeney, 2004). These findings are also generally consistent with previous research that has revealed attachment anxiety to be particularly disruptive to the formation of a successful mentor-protégé relationship (Allen et al., 2010). However, I did not replicate the previous finding, obtained from a graduate school sample, that individuals higher in attachment anxiety were less likely to take advice offered by their mentors. This inconsistency may be due to the difference between the two samples. The undergraduate students included in the present sample may have less autonomy than the graduate students previously studied, given the relatively inflexible requirements for completing an undergraduate degree.

To access this article, click here.