New Higher Education Administrators Need Mentors Too

While it’s common for junior faculty to be assigned senior colleagues as mentors, no such “buddy-system” exists for administrators.  From entry-level administrators on up to the presidents’ office, employees are most often on their own to develop their career trajectories--and moving up the ladder can be fraught with some real perils.

Consider the colleague who resents your being hired from the “outside” instead of promoting her from within.  There is one-upsmanship, too, and don’t forget there are colleagues who won’t wish you well for apparently irrational reasons, from your talent with IT to your regional accent, and more.

So, what’s to be done if you are relatively ambitious and are longing for an office instead of a cube? Consider finding a mentor. Your most obvious choice—your boss—may not be the best one, given the internecine rivalries mentioned above. 

Have you been tasked with something new for you? A strategic plan for your division, an operation’s manual for your department, or a yearly program report? Looking to the senior officers in the provost’s office may be the best move you can make.  This is the nerve center of the university where academic, operational, and budgetary planning take place.

Make an appointment with the head of Institutional Development and bring that strategic plan with you.  And that operations manual or program report? Take that outline and those outcomes surveys along when you chat up the VP for Operations and the Executive Director for Programs. These senior officers are generally helpful people when available. Remember that summer is best, and never, ever, call on a Monday or a Friday-- you may just find a great mentor.

Susanne Thomas, PhD, is a Higher Education and Nonprofit Management Consultant and the Owner of

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