Are Mentor Programs Legit?
An exploration of ancient traditions and modern research
If you are thinking about participating in a mentor program or starting a mentor program, you might find yourself wondering, “Are mentor programs legit?”
At Tablmakr we think this is an important question to ask. And based on our experience working with hundreds of mentor programs we can confidently say, “It depends.”
The quality, value, and personal fit of any particular mentor program or individual mentor varies widely and is affected by millions of variables (Explore our site for other posts about these details). So, even though we’re big fans of mentor programs, we would never provide a blanket endorsement of all mentor programs or all mentors.
We can, however, say that there is over two thousand years of evidence showing that mentorship can be beneficial. Here’s a ridiculously short overview of the 2,800 year history of mentorship.
First, the word mentor is derived from the character named Mentor in Homer’s Odyssey, The character Mentor provided timely advice to Odysseus' son Telemachus (1). Homer wrote the Odyssey around the 8th century B.C.E., so the concept of mentorship is literally ancient.
In the thousands of years since the term mentorship was coined, the practice of mentorship has appeared in many different forms. Just about every spiritual and religious tradition has a unique form of mentorship such as the guru-disciple tradition in Eastern religions, the elders of Western religions, and the sponsors of contemporary 12-step programs.
Mentorship has also been a central theme in art across cultures. When Joseph Campbell popularized the idea of the monomyth, which is a template for the transformational journey of a hero, meeting with a mentor was listed as a necessary step in the hero’s journey (2). In the step of the hero’s journey referred to as the “meeting with the Goddess” the hero gains valuable insight or tools from the mentor that they would not be able to complete their journey without. From the wise gods of ancient epic poems to Yoda, Dumbledor, Rafiki and Grandmother Willow of modern cinema, humans have embraced mentorship as an unavoidable component of personal growth.
The latest academic research also supports the idea that mentorship is valuable. Research overwhelmingly indicates that, in general, mentorship provides value to those who participate in mentoring activities. Multiple meta-analyses of studies of youth mentor programs have indicated that mentorship correlates with a variety of prosocial outcomes (3) (4).
Domain specific meta-analyses also align with the conclusion that mentorship is generally valuable to participants and the organizations sponsoring the programs. For example, a review of higher education interventions for struggling students identified that faculty to student mentoring has a positive effect on rates of persistence and graduation, which was better than many other forms of intervention (5). And a meta analysis of peer to peer mentoring programs indicate the practice improves academic outcomes in medical school (Guraya & Abdalla, 2020). (6)
In conclusion, the evidence suggests that, yes, mentor programs and mentorship is legit. But, only you can determine if a particular mentor program or mentor is a good fit for you. However, the history, artistic representations, and academic research all suggest that taking the time to find or create a mentor program that you think is legit is worth the effort.
- O’Donnell, B. R. J. (2017, October 13). The Odyssey’s millennia-old model of mentorship. The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/10/the-odyssey- mentorship/542676/
- Campbell, J. (1949). The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Pantheon Books.
- Raposa, E., et al. (2019). The effects of youth mentoring programs: A meta‐analysis of outcome studies. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 48, 423-443.
- Eby, L., Allen, T., Evans, S., Ng, T., & DuBois, D. (2008). Does mentoring matter? A multidisciplinary meta-analysis comparing mentored and non-mentored individuals. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 72(2), 254-267.
- Sneyers, E., & De Witte, K. (2018). Interventions in higher education and their effect on student success: a meta-analysis, Educational Review. 70(2), 208-228.
- Guraya, S., & Abdalla, M. (2020). Determining the effectiveness of peer-assisted learning in medical education: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Taibah University Medical Sciences, 15(3), 177-184.