International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring
2024, Vol. 22(1), pp.19-34. DOI: 10.24384/0ks7-2r96

Academic Paper

Comparative study of informal mentoring in two higher education institutions (Kazakhstan and Türkiye)

Gulsaule Kairat (National Center for Education Research and Evaluation, Kazakhstan)
Sadegül Akbaba Altun (Başkent University, Türkiye)

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Introduction

Taking the first steps into an academic path or making a move to a new academic job can be extremely complex and demanding (Staniforth & Harland, 2006), and involves both professional and personality development concerns. The requirements for research and teaching staff in the higher education sector include being in possession of high professional knowledge and skills, mastering modern pedagogical methods and techniques, as well as acknowledged personal responsibility for the quality of education, and ongoing development as creative and erudite professionals responsible for well-being of students and society in general.

To understand the experiences of academic staff at their early careers, learning their perspectives, thoughts, and actions are crucial (Dinkelman et al., 2006). Research indicates that work in higher education is mostly challenging and stressful for newly hired academics (Boyd et al., 2011; Cawyer et al., 2002). Most of the examinations and observations of teacher education have considerably neglected the questions of what a new academic needs to know and how he/she learns it (Dinkelman et al., 2006). A teacher’s grounding and education in this sophisticated multifunctional profession comprises a holistic, sustained and continuous process, directed to shape and model personal qualities, professional skills, knowledge and competences which are sufficient and appropriate to his/her personal needs as well as qualification requirements.

This holistic goal can be approached by a system of mentoring which can intensify the professional formation process of newly hired university teachers and building their motivation leading to self-improvement, self-development and self-realization.

It is equally crucial to emphasize the significance of conducting comparative studies, particularly in the field of education, among various Turkic countries. These research endeavors serve multiple decentralized objectives. Firstly, they contribute to the comprehension of educational policies implemented within individual countries as well as those pursued in other nations. Furthermore, such analyses enable research that aims to enhance, advance, and reform educational policies and experiences. They also aid in predicting the consequences and impacts of educational achievements and changes. Additionally, these comparative studies facilitate the development of tools and frameworks that assist in the effective implementation of educational initiatives.

In this research, the authors aim to explore how informal mentoring works in a Kazakhstani and a Turkish higher education institution and wish to contribute to implementing a formal faculty mentoring program at the university as a means for young academics’ professional growth and career development.

To address this aim, three main research questions are proposed:

  1. How does informal faculty mentoring work in a Kazakhstani and a Turkish higher education institution?
  2. What are professional responsibilities and competences of a mentor?
  3. What are the challenges and risks in mentoring relationships?

The outline of this paper encompasses three critical sections: First, a literature review will explore mentoring in academia. Second, the methodology section will provide a detailed account of the research design and data collection methods, alongside the participant demographics and sampling details. Third, the findings and discussion section will present the research outcomes, followed by an in-depth analysis of these findings in light of the literature, ultimately culminating in a conclusive summary that highlights the significance and implications of the study’s contributions to the field of mentoring.

Mentoring in academia: Informal mentoring

Adaptation of a new entrant into higher education is not just a simple process. It is a multifaceted learning process (Cheng et al., 2012) “through which the individual acquires the knowledge and skills, the values and attitudes, and the habits and modes of thought of the society to which he belongs” (Bragg, 1976, p.9). Also, it is a joint process (Bauer & Erdogan, 2012) involving the organization influencing and shaping its new workers, who in turn need to define acceptable roles for themselves within their new organization or institution.

Research has confirmed the importance of learning (Taye, Sang & Muthanna, 2019) during the professional socialization of a newcomer because learning is “the core of organizational socialization” (Cooper‐Thomas & Anderson, 2006). As a learning and change process, mentoring for senior academics involves passing on “the organizational culture, best practices, and the inner workings of a profession” (Aishebli et al., 2020).

Thus, socialization, both professionally and at the organizational level, occurs through social interactions between newly hired faculty members and organizational ‘insiders’ (Li et al., 2011) in roles of peer colleagues and supervisors. These insiders, as the research indicates, are crucial in adaptation (Cooper‐Thomas & Anderson, 2006) as they provide information, feedback, and role models as well as social relationships and support. That is why organizational insiders are ‘useful sources of information’ (Cooper‐Thomas & Anderson, 2006).

The literature emphasizes the importance of mentoring in faculty by stating that it increases job satisfaction, expands newly recruited faculty members’ constellations of developmental relationships, providing them not only with career guidance but also psychosocial and emotional support with less work conflicts (Illes et al., 2000; Janasz & Sullivan, 2001; Mullen & Klimaitis, 2021).

In the modern theory of education, mentorship is given more importance as a mechanism for professional socialization and supporting junior faculty members’ academic practice in higher education context. A study carried out by Schriever and Grainger (2019) emphasized that in a supportive environment provided in mentorship mentees can receive guidance and career assistance, validation of their capability to contribute to research publications, and the opportunity to collaborate in co-authoring a journal article.

The concept of mentorship is complicated due to the numerous definitions and explanations. In the field of higher education, this concept became a ‘buzzword’ (Sands et al., 1991) and nowadays it is receiving renewed attention (Bhagia & Tinsley, 2000; Mullen & Klimaitis, 2021). In the sector, the term mentoring is being used and operated in a diversity of ways and with a variety of goals and aims for mentoring academics. Among these aims are successful induction, staff retention, a mechanism for on-going growth opportunity, and professional development (Van & Misawa, 2022).

Mentoring is a method of transferring knowledge, rendering help and support in the teaching and learning process as well as young academic’s career development. It is essential to note that it does not eliminate other methods such as, on-the-job education, research studies, additional participation in professional development and learning program courses, internships, etc. which in turn enhance its relevance. Mentorship is not a unidirectional relationship (Tammy, 2018), but rather a reciprocal process, a partnership, on the one hand, mentor’s activity, on the other hand – his/her mentee’s activity.

Traditionally, in the academic frame, mentoring, although being ‘a slippery concept’ (Daloz, 1986), renders “support in academic endeavors, and more importantly, provides help to the protégé in comprehending and overcoming the political and social barriers within the department, school or faculty” (Anafarta & Apaydin, 2016, p. 22). This view is also mirrored in the study of van der Weijden and colleagues (van der Weijden et al., 2015) who look upon mentoring as a way of preparing young academic researchers for a full professorship.

Clearly, newly hired young academics entering the sphere of higher education tend to be unprepared and uncertain as teachers and as academics (Cordie et al., 2020) despite university training in the variety of responsibilities of the contemporary academic (Beane-Katner, 2014). Plus they need the person who is an “expert-who-has-the-answers” (Portner, 2008). Mentoring is especially crucial in the induction period of a beginner since they have “little experience in teaching and are constantly developing their identity and competence as a teacher” (Olsen et al., 2020, p.14).

The system of mentoring encourages experienced faculty members and helps and assists junior academics in learning the roles as well as in understanding the institutional culture, thus offering professional stimulation to both, senior and junior staff member (Aishebli et al., 2020). Moreover, mentoring supports professional growth and renewal which leads to the empowerment of the faculty (Goerisch et al., 2019) and shapes the future of young teachers’ professions (Nakamura et al., 2009).

Academic mentoring has been traditionally natural and informal, independent of any institutional intervention (Dorner et al., 2021). It is characterized by spontaneous, voluntary, and often unstructured relationships between mentors and mentees, and has gained prominence within the context of higher education as a valuable avenue for personal and professional development (Aishebli et al., 2020; Hansman, 2016; Du & Wang, 2017; Parfitt & Rose, 2020). Informal mentoring in higher education fosters individual growth and career advancement, enhances a sense of belonging and engagement and offers more comprehensive insights into faculty role expectations (Goerisch et al., 2019). Informal mentors play a pivotal role in knowledge sharing within academic communities (Mullen, 2007). They facilitate the transfer of tacit knowledge and unwritten rules that are often critical for success in academia.

Although the concept of mentoring may not have been explicitly labelled in the higher education institutions in focus, the analysis of history reveals that the act of helping and assisting new individuals is not a recent phenomenon. It can be inferred that the establishment and recognition of mentorship as a social institution emerged as a result of society’s increasing needs in terms of theoretical understanding and generalizing the naturally occurring process of teaching and nurturing the younger generation: in Türkiye starting from Muallim Mektebi (Teacher school) to Darülmuallimin-i Aliye (Higher Teacher Institutes), in Kazakhstan pedagogical institutions and evening schools. Mentors serve a distinct societal function by nurturing individuals, fostering their intellectual and spiritual growth, and preparing them for active participation in work and life. The phenomenon of mentorship encompasses a crucial social and pedagogical element in promoting social development and preserving valuable traditional socio-cultural foundations.

Methodology

The primary focus of mentoring in the present research is investigating mentorship relationships as a support mechanism for professional socialization and career growth for new young academics through personal interactions and relationship building.

The design of the research is grounded in a qualitative research methodology with a perspective of an interpretivist paradigm. Thus, the research is projected towards qualitative data which reveals in-depth understanding of the respondents’ experiences and personal stories as well as the meanings they attach to their actions. For a qualitative research design both individual interviews and focus group interviews were used. The semi-structured interview method was used, which is flexible, accessible and intelligible and, more important, capable of disclosing important and often hidden facets of human and organizational behavior (Qu & Dumay, 2011, p. 246). Interviews in qualitative research strive to esteem the world from the participants’ perspective and to investigate and delve into the importance of people’s experiences (Kvale, 1996; Silverman, 2013).

One of the primary strengths of semi-structured interviews lies in their ability to elicit rich, detailed narratives from participants. As highlighted by Patton (2002), this method allows participants to express their experiences, emotions, and perceptions in their own words, providing a depth of insight unattainable through quantitative approaches. In our research, which delves into intricate aspects of informal mentoring, this depth of understanding is essential for capturing the complexity and subtleties of the participants’ experiences.

Semi-structured interviews also offer the advantage of adaptability during the data collection process. Charmaz (2006) argues that this adaptability permits researchers to explore unexpected themes and follow-up on participants’ responses in real-time, enhancing the depth of the data collected. In our study, which involves participants with diverse backgrounds and expertise in the field of higher education, the flexibility of semi-structured interviews ensures that each participant’s unique perspective is thoroughly explored and documented.

Participants

Table 1: Information on the participants of the research

CountryGeneral informationTeaching experienceWorkplace (faculty/ department)
A Turkish higher education institutionResearch assistant 1
Female
4,5 yearsForeign Language Education
Research assistant 2
Female
1,5 yearsEducational Administration
Research assistant 3
Female
3,7 yearsEnglish Language Teaching
Senior lecturer 1
Female
30 yearsEducational Administration
Senior lecturer 2
Female
33 yearsForeign Language Education
Senior lecturer 3
Female
35 yearsEducational Sciences
Senior lecturer 4
Female
N/AEducational Sciences (Measurement and Evaluation in Education)
Head of the department
Male
18 yearsForeign Language Education
Dean of the faculty
Female
30 yearsFaculty of Education
Vice rector 1
Female
N/AFaculty of Education
Vice rector 2
Male
N/AFaculty of Education
A Kazakhstani higher education institutionAssistant lecturer 1
Female
Two monthsDepartment of English Language and Teaching Methodology
Assistant lecturer 2
Female
2 yearsDepartment of English Language and Teaching Methodology
Assistant lecturer 3
Female
5 yearsDepartment of English Language and Teaching Methodology
Assistant lecturer 4
Female
2 yearsDepartment of Foreign Languages
Assistant lecturer 5
Male
1 yearFaculty of Economics
Assistant lecturer 6
Female
3 yearsDepartment of Kazakh Language and Literature
Assistant lecturer 7
Female
1 yearDepartment of Kazakh Language and Literature
Assistant lecturer 8
Female
1 yearDepartment of Foreign Languages
Senior lecturer 1
Female
25 yearsDepartment of English Language and Teaching Methodology
Senior lecturer 2
Female
17 yearsDepartment of English Language and Teaching Methodology
Senior lecturer 3
Female
18 yearsDepartment of English Language and Teaching Methodology
Senior lecturer 4
Female
18 yearsDepartment of English Language and Teaching Methodology
Head of the department 1
Female
29 yearsDepartment of Pedagogy, Psychology and Social Work
Dean of the faculty 1
Female
39 yearsFaculty of Philology
Total25

Selecting the participants for this study, the researchers adopted two main sampling types: non-probability sampling and purposeful sampling. The former gave the researchers the opportunity to select participants with the freedom based on their subjective judgment (Lewis, Saunders, & Thornhill, 2009). The latter type of sampling, including the snowballing method, allowed them to select participants for interviews based on self-selection which means that any faculty staff member who was interested to take part in the study was included. This allowed the researchers to make an elaborate and in-depth analysis of the questions under discussion.

The focus of the research is two main universities from Türkiye and Kazakhstan: Başkent University (Türkiye) and Sh. Ualikhanov Kokshetau State University (Kazakhstan). Başkent University, established in 1993 in Ankara as a founded university, is one of the leading universities in the country in terms of research and quality teaching conducted by its highly qualified academic staff, and in the dissemination of research results. The institution is prominent for its Medical and Research Centers and Dialysis Centers all around Türkiye. Today, Başkent University has 12 faculties, 7 institutes, 6 vocational schools and a language school, and 13 research centers, with 1,669 academic staff members, and around 17,000 students.

Shokan Ualikhanov Kokshetau State University was established in 1962 as a pedagogical institute in Kokshetau, Kazakhstan. It is a modern, actively developing higher educational institution in the northern part of the country with great traditions, great potential and ambitious plans for the future. In 2015, the institution becomes a member of the European University Association and Eurasian University Association. The institution has 410 academic staff members and more than 7,000 students.

For the study 25 individual and group interviews were conducted in total: 11 from the Turkish university (of which 3 research assistants, 5 senior lecturers and heads of the departments, 1 dean of the faculty and 2 vice-rectors) and 14 from the Kazakhstani university (of which 8 assistant lecturers, 4 senior teachers, 1 dean of the faculty and 1 head of the department) (Table 1). The Turkish academics were selected from the Faculty of Education, mainly from the Program of English language teaching, Guidance and Psychological Counselling Program, and from the Department of Educational Administration while the Kazakhstani interviewees were from the Faculty of Philology and Pedagogics, in particular, from the Department of Kazakh Philology, Department of English Language and Teaching Methods, and Department of Foreign Languages.

Data Collection and Analysis

Once the interviews were arranged and the venue and schedule finalized, both individual and group interviews commenced with an introduction of the ground rules and a general overview of the research being conducted. The face-to-face interviews lasted approximately 40 minutes. All data collected during the interviews were audio recorded with the respondents’ consent, and they were assured that the recordings would only be used for research purposes and would remain anonymous.

For interviews in qualitative research two standard approaches are used for analysis, developing themes and content analysis (Gubrium et al., 2012). To do this, two techniques were used in the analysis, the first cycle was manual coding and developing themes and sub-categories which were descriptive in nature, and the second cycle was conducted via Atlas.ti 8 software for qualitative data analysis.

Reliability and validity

The reliability and validity of the data collection process were ensured through several measures. The interviews were conducted following a predetermined set of ground rules and a clear overview of the research objectives. This helped to maintain consistency in the interview process and ensure that all participants received similar information about the study. Furthermore, the interviews were conducted in both individual and group formats to provide a comprehensive understanding of the research topic. This allowed for multiple perspectives and enriched the data collected. The recordings of the interviews served as a means of verification and reference for data analysis.

Regarding the validity of the data, steps were taken to assure the respondents that their confidentiality would be maintained and that the recordings would only be used for research purposes. This encouraged honest and open responses from the participants, increasing the trustworthiness and credibility of the data.

Overall, the careful planning, standardized procedures, audio recordings, and assurance of anonymity contributed to the reliability and validity of the data collected during the interviews.

Findings

Academics’ conceptualization about mentoring

While the participants of the HEIs in both countries view mentoring as a form of support, help, and guidance for academic professionals, there are some slight differences in how mentoring is perceived and practiced.

In a Kazakhstani institution, mentoring is seen as a relationship where a mentor provides assistance and expertise to a mentee, primarily focusing on professional development and career advancement. This more narrow view of mentoring emphasizes mentor’s role as a supportive figure:

It [mentoring] is crucial because mentoring is showing assistance and support to the people who need it at the beginning of a career or study (Assistant lecturer 3, Kazakhstan),

...for me it [mentoring] means first of all support, help, being helped in difficult situations and supporting you throughout your induction period when you start to work. I think, it is very important to have a person whom you can ask about things, about how the things work and are structured (Assistant lecturer 1, Kazakhstan).

Data collected from a Turkish institution show that the participants consider mentoring as an influential and dynamic process that goes beyond mere support and guidance. It is seen as a social exchange where both mentor and mentee contribute to each other's growth and development:

Mentoring for me means as a kind of leadership, rather than creating followers you need to create new leaders, you need to convey your experience, your knowledge base to younger generation or those who a new in the field (Head of the department 1, Türkiye),

It [mentoring] is kind of a social exchange of ideas in practice (Professor 3, Türkiye):

For me, the notion of mentorship refers to guiding a faculty member who is a newcomer to an institution or who needs to gain experience through observation or trial about a range of issues in faculty environments. These issues may include technical ones such as getting hold of technological resources or facilities of the faculty; cultural ones like understanding the history, traditions, or cultural conventions of the institution; academic ones such as improving one's research skills by taking part in or assisting research projects; and lastly, social ones such as building networks in the field through conferences or social responsibility projects(Research assistant 3, Türkiye).

In this broader view, mentoring is seen as a reciprocal relationship that involves sharing knowledge, experiences, and perspectives, leading to mutual learning and growth:

You [as a mentor] are constantly reflecting on yourself too. So, it is a learning process. It’s a mutually developmental learning process both for the mentor and the mentee. It should be an interactive learning experience (Senior lecturer 2, Türkiye).

As one of the Turkish professors stated:

Informal relationships, informal networks are important for the newcomers to discover. Because when they [mentees] first start working in a new organization they may feel lost in many ways. The ways of doing things informally is an important aspect of an organizational life, so in this respect for the newly hired faculty or research assistances, I believe, they need to provide at least informal mentoring, because at Başkent University we don’t have kind of a formal mentoring.

Informal relationships and networks play a crucial role in helping newcomers navigate and adapt to a new organization. Starting a new position in an unfamiliar environment can often lead to feelings of being lost or overwhelmed. In such situations, informal practices and interactions become essential for individuals to understand the informal norms and ways of doing things within the organization. Thus, informal mentoring can help newcomers understand the unwritten rules, organizational culture, and expectations within the institution.

As a result of addressing the first research question, the following figure has been developed to visually represent the participants’ perception about faculty mentoring in two contexts (Fig. 2).

It is essential to recognize that the conceptualization and practice of mentoring can vary not only between countries but also within different academic institutions or disciplines. Factors such as organizational culture, institutional policies, and individual preferences can shape the mentoring dynamics in academia.

Figure 1: Academics’ perception about mentoring in two contexts

Professional responsibilities and competencies of a mentor

Answering the second research question about identifying professional competences of mentors was extremely complicated by the fact that, firstly, there is no established formal neither informal forms of mentoring system at the universities in focus, and, secondly, all mentoring relationships are situational and temporal in nature (Clutterbuck, 2005). Still, an attempt was made to define mentors’ competences for effective and successful relationships based on data analysis.

In comparing mentoring professional and personal competences between two institutions, some notable differences were found in the expectations of beginning young academics regarding the skills and qualities they desire in their mentors to possess.

The initial phases of mentoring relationships require a mentor to be positive and kind (Group interview with assistant lecturers, Senior lecturer 3, Kazakhstan), “who can worry and be concerned about their common work” (Senior lecturer 3, Kazakhstan) thus building trust (Senior lecturer 4, Kazakhstan) between a mentor and a mentee which is a crucial role of a mentor. Said differently, young professionals from the Kazakhstani institution prioritize mentors who possess psychosocial development skills for further fruitful relationships which are closely linked to emotional intelligence. Mentors who exhibit these psychosocial development skills contribute to the emotional well-being and professional growth of mentees, enhancing the overall success of the mentoring process.

This indicates that mentees in a Kazakhstani institution value mentors who can effectively address their emotional and psychological needs, providing support and guidance in these areas. Mentees may seek mentors who can create a supportive and nurturing environment, fostering their personal growth and well-being alongside their professional development.

Contrarily, beginning professionals of the Turkish institution place greater emphasis on their mentor’s soft skills, particularly “being cooperative and open to communication” (Research assistant 1, Türkiye).

The bond that they [mentors] build with the mentee through their interactions is very important. To communicate warmly and to convey thoughts and feelings in the appropriate manner are not always easy. Soft skills are very important in ensuring these (Research assistant 3, Türkiye).

Thus, young academics of the Turkish institution seek mentors who can establish a positive and open dialogue, creating an environment of trust and understanding. From the other hand, “they [mentors] should be strong enough to represent the culture to represent the school” (Head of the department 2, Türkiye).

An important aspect of effective mentoring is the ability to guide individuals to self-reflect without undermining their self-esteem or demotivating them: You [mentor] have to make the person look at himself or herself without damaging the person’s self-esteem and without making the person feel demotivated (Senior lecturer 2, Türkiye). This delicate balance is crucial for mentors to create a supportive and constructive environment that promotes personal and professional growth.

Most crucial is that senior faculty members should accept that their newly hired junior colleagues are not just younger versions of themselves (Beane-Katner, 2014). Importantly, mentors should see the mentee academic’s challenges from the mentee’s perspective, but not through the prism of his/her own problems, because mentees want to be heard and understood. One essential point is that “mentor should consider his mentee not as a competitor, but as his partner” (Senior lecturer 4, Kazakhstan) and that “mentor feels responsibility and pure strive to help his younger colleague” (Senior lecturer 1, Kazakhstan). Otherwise, this can lead to dementorship’ (Vice-rector, Türkiye).

Mentors should employ strategies that encourage mentees to critically assess their strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement because “it is difficult changing the beliefs of people of themselves” (Senior lecturer 2, Türkiye). This process of self-reflection helps mentees gain insights into their own abilities, identify areas for development, and set goals for growth. However, it is essential for mentors to approach this process with sensitivity, ensuring that mentees do not feel discouraged or devalued in the process.

However, despite these differences, institutions in both countries share a common emphasis on mentors’ knowledgeability and professional experience. Mentees in both the Kazakhstani and Turkish HEIs recognize the importance of mentors who possess expertise in their respective fields and can provide valuable insights, guidance, and practical knowledge. The mentor’s knowledge and professional experience are seen as essential for the mentees’ successful mentoring relationships, as they can contribute to the mentee’s skill development, career advancement, and overall growth (Table 2).

Table 2: Young academics’ expectations regarding mentor’s skills and qualifications

Kazakhstani institutionTurkish institution
Senior academics
as mentors
Young academics
as mentees
Senior academics
as mentors
Young academics
as mentees
Mentor should possess such skills as positiveness and kindness

Feeling of empathy

Trustworthiness

Mentor should consider his/her young colleague as a partner
Mentor should possess psychological development skills:

to address mentee’s emotional and psychological needs

Mentor should create a supportive and nurturing environment
Mentor should represent the culture of the organization

Mentor should create a supportive and constructive environment

Mentor should have strategies to encourage mentees to critically assess their strengths and weaknesses
Mentor should possess soft skills: to be cooperative and open to communication

Mentor should create a positive and open dialogue

In categorizing “senior” and “young” academics for this study (Table 2), we defined “young academics” as individuals who have less than three years of experience working within a higher education institution. This classification is based on the duration of their professional experience in this specific context and aligns with our research objectives, which aim to examine the experiences and perspectives of academics in the early stages of their careers within academia. “Senior academics”, on the other hand, refer to those who have surpassed the three-year threshold and have accumulated a longer history of working in higher education institutions. This distinction allows us to explore potential differences in the experiences and challenges faced by academics at various stages of their careers in academia.

The findings of the comparative study align with the existing literature on faculty-to-faculty mentor relationships. Aishebli, Makovi and Rahwan (2020) defined a mentor as someone who guides, sponsors, advises, protects, and shows a special interest in another person’s development. They also identified four additional mentor roles: sponsor, coach, role model, and counsellor. The study emphasizes the importance of finding the right mentor, especially in a challenging and unfamiliar environment. Faurer, Sutton, and Worster (2014) support this notion by providing evidence that when selecting mentors, priority should be given to individuals with knowledge of institutional resources and the environment, as well as strong interpersonal skills, rather than solely considering their length of experience and academic rank. Overall, this study’s findings reinforce the importance of effective mentorship in facilitating professional growth and achieving set goals.

Challenges and risks in mentoring relationships

The interviewees from the Turkish and Kazakhstani institutions recognized the challenges faced by young professionals who are often tasked with both teaching and research responsibilities. This dual role can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed and in need of support because:

...when you don’t put it [mentoring] as a system, people are a little bit scared of showing their insecurities like showing what they [mentees] don’t know because they know and go ask a question just someone, you should feel comfortable. Maybe they ask one time or twice and then they will be: Oh, I ask so much. But if you put a formal mentoring system, the person can ask more because knows that it is the culture. Because it is stated openly. Maybe they are scared of that. Maybe they are scared that they are going to take my time or maybe they feel like vulnerable (Senior lecturer 2, Türkiye).

A systematic mentoring program could help alleviate some of these pressures by providing a platform for guidance, advice, and sharing experiences, especially in the induction period of new entrants since, in most cases, they feel like my description was not very clear at the beginning but as I completed task, I got accustomed to the workflow (Research assistant 3, Türkiye)

or

As a new staff member, though you know everything theoretically well, in reality I felt a strong feeling of not having a practical knowledge. This was seen in works like lesson planning, filling the papers, working with students’ paperwork and many other documents (Assistant lecturer 8, Kazakhstan).

Interestingly, most of the participants, be it mentors or mentees, highlighted the significant role of the thesis supervisors as being their mentors which in turn facilitated their smooth adaptation to a new work environment. The mentors, who were already familiar with the participants’ research and academic pursuits, were able to provide personalized support and advice, which helped ease the transition process. Recognizing and nurturing such mentor-mentee relationships can continue to play a vital role in the success and growth of individuals in academia.

While the participants of the study did not specifically address the challenges and problems associated with mentoring, their emphasis on the need for a more formalized and systematic approach suggests a desire for a supportive framework that addresses the unique needs of new entrants. Such a program could provide guidance on managing the demands of teaching and research, foster professional development, and alleviate the feelings of being overwhelmed.

While formal mentoring programs are not widely established in the examined contexts, there is one department in the Turkish university under focus where such a program is systematically implemented. However, the head of this department acknowledged a challenge in the matching process, particularly when mentors are selected for multiple iterations, which can potentially lead to boredom among mentors: “It is important to choose some different people [as mentors]. If you choose the same one once again and again, they may get bored” (Head of the department 2, Türkiye).

The interviews conducted with the heads of the departments and vice-rectors from both countries revealed a common trend of resistance for establishing formal mentoring programs. The resistance to formal mentoring programs may stem from a perception that existing orientation programs adequately address the needs of new entrants. However, it is important to note that mentoring goes beyond a mere orientation and encompasses ongoing support, guidance, and personalized attention.

Mentorship is a long-lasting and ongoing process with ‘no deadline’ (Research assistant 1, Türkiye) entailing orderly planning and systematic approach. The point is that relevant knowledge and skills are not transferred at one haul or from one situation to another, hence those mentoring interactions are successful which are intentionally organized and controlled.

Discussion

The findings of this study, despite being conducted in two distinct contexts, highlight striking similarities that align with the existing literature. In relation to literature this current research has pinpointed that the results are mainly reflective of the literature studies regarding teacher-to-teacher mentoring in the context of the higher education. The results also indicate that this research made a significant contribution to the body of knowledge on this topic.

To start with, it was congruent with the literature that it is important to address the professional socialization of beginning teachers. The findings of the present research demonstrate that the questions of what a new entrant of the department need to know and how they learn it are neglected, also as was investigated in Dinkelman, Margolis and Sikkenga (2006). Almost right after their graduation new teachers face struggles in teaching, research and service responsibilities. That’s why it is particularly challenging and stressful (Boyd et al., 2011; Shahr et al., 2019; Everitt & Tefft, 2019).

The literature on faculty mentoring extensively made an attempt to identify mentor roles and characteristics. This typology included a mentor to be a guide, advisor, protector, assistant, helper, supporter, a means for professional networking, counseling, and many others. The interviews with beginning teachers pinpointed two sides of the roles of mentors in their departments: first, professional development which is seen in transferring knowledge, skills and competencies, encourage in acquisition of new experience, development of one’s motivation, and second, sociocultural induction which is seen in feeding with organizational culture, its values, norms and rules. These findings beg to acknowledge those findings examined during the literature review for this research (see for example Faurer et al., 2014; Hansman, 2016).

Commonly, the struggles, which new entrants face, are seen in uncertainty about the specific nature of new professional roles, difficulty in managing with the pedagogical skills specifically designed for adult learners and concerns about the adequacy of the professional and academic knowledge bases necessary for higher education work (MacPhail et al., 2019). One of the key challenges occurred in tertiary education for newcomers are underpinned by scholarship and research. To support the research development of new university academics the mission of departments is to provide effective support through mentoring and collaborative projects (Boyd et al., 2011). In many cases universities make stress on research area to prevail over teaching and there is too much pressure for junior university teachers to publish (Carmel & Paul, 2015). Consequently, university academics who work in a system that emphasizes the importance of research on teaching and other tasks tend to develop an ambivalent attitude toward teaching.

The analysis of the literature and in practice (in this research) on developing effective mentoring relationships concurred concerning its foundational principles: constructive professional interrelationship between mentor teacher and mentee teacher, the selection of a mentor should be made with the perspective of appropriateness of teachers in line with the principle of voluntariness. Additionally, mentors should possess a high level of empathetic understanding as well as keeping professional tact in the relationship with beginning teachers.

The practical benefits of our research findings have shed light on the significance of informal mentoring in higher education. This study illustrates how informal mentors serve as role models, facilitating the transmission of tacit knowledge and skills (Aishebli et al., 2020). Our findings reinforce this notion by demonstrating how informal mentors, often more experienced faculty members, serve as exemplars who share their tacit knowledge and expertise with mentees (Sambunjak et al., 2010).

The research findings also underscored the substantial impact of informal mentoring on career progression and faculty retention. This resonates with prior studies highlighting how informal mentorship contributes to the job satisfaction and professional growth of early-career faculty members (Haggard & Dougherty, 2015; Ragins & Verbos, 2007). The support and guidance provided by informal mentors enhance not only individual career trajectories but also contribute to a positive academic culture, potentially mitigating issues of faculty turnover (Eagan et al., 2011).

This research also shed light on the role of informal mentoring in fostering a sense of community and collaboration among faculty members (Eagan et al., 2011). Informal mentors often act as connectors, facilitating interactions among colleagues and contributing to a collaborative culture within academic departments.

Building on the findings of this research, we recommend future research endeavors that delve deeper into the theoretical foundations of informal mentoring. Investigating the cognitive processes that underlie informal mentorship, such as knowledge sharing and trust development, could contribute to the theoretical development in this area. Additionally, examining the impact of contextual factors on informal mentoring dynamics can enrich existing theories.

Conclusion

The purpose of this research was to explore how mentoring works in two higher education institutions, what the current problem issues are, and, thus, contribute to the growing research-based literature on this issue. This research provided insights into the issues and challenges of informal mentoring in two different contexts.

Despite the lack of established formal mentoring programs in both countries, the participants from two countries expressed a common sentiment regarding the potential benefits of a more systematic approach to mentoring. Mentors are considered as “guards of elite wisdom in society and helpers of the mentees throughout their journey by embodying the mentee’s hopes, shedding light on her path, interpreting uncertainties, warning of impending dangers and showing the inner face of unexpected situations” (Aslıer, 2020, p.69).

In terms of practice, our research highlights the pivotal role of informal mentoring in knowledge transfer, career advancement, and the overall well-being of faculty members within higher education institutions. Institutions should recognize the significance of these informal connections and consider ways to support and facilitate them. Mentorship programs, both formal and informal, should be designed to harness the power of these relationships in fostering a collaborative academic environment.

This study also points toward exciting avenues for future research. Investigating the cognitive processes that underlie informal mentorship, such as knowledge sharing and trust development, can contribute to the theoretical development in this area. Furthermore, examining the impact of contextual factors on informal mentoring dynamics is essential for tailoring mentorship approaches to specific settings.

In conclusion, this comparative study shed light on the similarities and differences in the practice of mentoring within two distinct contexts. It revealed commonalities in terms of the current state of mentoring and the challenges faced by mentees. However, it is important to note that this study represents only a snapshot of these two countries and their specific circumstances. To draw broader generalizations and make comprehensive comparisons across different countries, further research is necessary. Conducting additional research in diverse educational settings, will yield a more nuanced and region-specific understanding of mentoring practices globally. Such investigations can help pinpoint common trends, effective strategies, and potential areas for improvement in mentorship programs.

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to express their sincere gratitude to Associate Doctor Deniz Örücü and research assistant Ilayda Köklücan at Başkent University (Türkiye) for their invaluable assistance in organizing the interviews.

Funding

The study was conducted within the scope of the Research scholarship of Türkiye bursları program.

References

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About the authors

Gulsaule Kairat, Ph.D. in Education, is Deputy Head of the Department of Analytics, Monitoring and Educational Evaluation at “Taldau” Center (Kazakhstan).

Sadegül Akbaba Altun, Dr. Professor, is Dean of the Faculty of Education at Başkent University (Türkiye).

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