Developed by: Cornell University


Power Mentoring Discussions provide invited graduate students and postdocs with the opportunity to engage in candid, closed-door conversations on various topics with faculty predominately from backgrounds historically underrepresented and minoritized within academia. These are space-limited discussions co-hosted either within the structure of the NextGen Professors Program, or as a standalone Graduate School-organized event for similar audiences.

Power Mentoring Discussions were conceived by the Cornell University Graduate School as a means of providing graduate students and postdoctoral scholars with access to a wider network of faculty mentors and role models about the realities of an academic career, while entailing a micro-commitment for the faculty invited to serve as Power Mentors. Finding alternate models to a typical mentoring dyad/team or ongoing time commitment was particularly important to us in light of the heavy service load that often falls on faculty from backgrounds historically underrepresented and minoritized within academia.

Goals & Objectives

  • Understand various institutional types and faculty career pathways within those institutions.
  • Unpack the hidden curriculum of academia, from job search to transitioning to professoriate, to understanding promotion and tenure.
  • Establish intellectual and social communities, and professional networks.
  • Learn to productively and professionally interact with faculty, peers, and others.

Partners, or Who to Engage, and Why

  • Develop a brainstorming list of supportive faculty within and beyond the university who might serve as power mentors.
  • Reach out to colleagues who might be organizing visiting speakers for departmental seminars or campus events about the possibility of building this into the visitor’s agenda.

Planning & Logistics


  • Choose a theme if any and confirm dates/times/details several months in advance to fit faculty travel schedules. Depending on whether there are refreshments and socializing, these sessions can last 60-90 minutes.
  • Determine whether to have one, two, or in some cases three faculty Power Mentors based on scope and comfort of faculty with the topic. Some earlier career faculty may be more comfortable in a mini-panel format.
  • Collect speaker bio, photo, and eventually mailing address (for gift and/or speaker fees).
  • Extend a call for participants / focused invitations by email or through listservs (e.g., named scholars, graduate student affinity groups).
  • Set up a registration or application form and email confirmation. Monitor and start a waiting list if this grows beyond approximately 30 people or venue capacity.
    • Use form to collect questions for the speaker (general or on a theme). Curate these and provide them to the Power Mentors approximately 48 hours in advance.
    • Collect brief attendee bios (~250 words max) in third person. Provide these to the Power Mentors as well as an alphabetical list of expected attendees. These can be useful for creating broader professional networks for attendees.
    • Note: Such open-forum discussions with technical language can be a challenge for sign-language interpreters or live captionists. If needed, secure well in advance and provide as much background context as possible (advance questions, speaker bios, list of registrant names).


  • Greet / check-in attendees with name tags and have them do a round of self-introductions to the group.
  • Provide table tents with speaker names if in person or spotlight/pin their video feeds if online.
  • Provide framing remarks around the purpose of the conversation and appropriate confidentiality. (e.g., specific people’s stories should stay, general lessons can leave)
  • Give a brief introduction to the Power Mentor(s) and why you are excited to have them engage with the group.
  • Invite the Power Mentors to say more about themself by way of longer self-introduction, potentially addressing a broader first question in the process.
  • Continue to moderate the discussion, actively at first from the list of questions submitted in advance, and then opening it up to the attendees for follow-up questions and emergent ones.
    • If virtual, clarify how to ask questions in the online meeting (hand raise, public chat, private chat to moderator, etc.)
    • If there are multiple Power Mentors, make sure to balance who gets asked to respond first or indicate when you are opening a general question up to either.
    • Identify a good closing question and thank the speakers. Optionally present thank-you gift. Consider taking a group photo of attendees with the speaker if there is interest.


  • Follow up with an immediate thank you email to the faculty Power Mentor(s)
  • Settle any details of speaking fees, travel, or thank you gifts.

Associated Costs

ItemUnit Cost
Internal or external faculty thank you gifts for power mentors$70 / gift
External faculty speaker fees for power mentors$500 / Power Mentor / session
Travel fees (only if in-person)Variable
Food / refreshments (only if in-person)Variable
Room rental and AV (only if in-person)Variable
Sign language interpreters (if needed)Variable
Program support personnelVariable

Assessment Options

  • Formatively assess topics of interest to registrants through a sign-up survey.
  • Summative assessment is usually informal or within the context of the NextGen Professors year-end post-program evaluation.

Attribution Statement

For those that might adapt and adopt this program model, please provide attribution to the Cornell Graduate School NextGen Professors Program, established in part with support from the National Science Foundation-funded CIRTL AGEP Alliance.

Contact for More Information

Cornell University – Graduate School

Colleen McLinn, Ph.D., Associate Dean for Professional Development
Future Faculty and Academic Careers
Twitter: @cufuturefaculty

Sara Xayarath Hernández, Associate Dean for Inclusion and Student & Faculty Engagement
Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement
Twitter: @cornelloise