Boundaries – both professional and personal – tend to be sensitive. Crossing boundaries has the unfortunate effect of making both parties uncomfortable and has the potential for creating tension in the mentee-mentor relationship.
It is important that mentors be careful about the requests they make of their mentees, since mentees are inclined to please their mentors and may perceive a request as a demand. In some cases, mentors inadvertently take advantage of their power and have a mentee take on the work of the mentor. In addition to leading to fear and resentment on the part of the mentee, this could increase the mentee's workload and stall progress in his or her career development.
To avoid this problem, the mentee and mentor should discuss boundaries at the onset of the relationship. Different people may have different ideas about what the boundaries should be. For instance, is it appropriate for a mentor to ask a mentee to give a talk that the mentor agreed to give? The extent to which a boundary has been crossed may be unclear. Being prepared will help avoid problems down the line. It may also be useful for mentees to talk to a peer or a peer's mentor to ask for their perspectives on the issue.
This section adapted with permission from the Institute for Clinical Research Education Mentoring Resources, University of Pittsburgh. Learn more about PITT ICRE Mentoring.