Navigating the Mentor Relationship: It’s Complicated

Professor Bonnie Oglensky has had three influential mentors in her life. Those relationships have been both incredibly rewarding and painfully difficult. In her new book, Ambivalence in Mentorship, Oglensky turns her sociologist’s (and psychoanalytic) eye on the mentor-protégé relationship — the intense passions and hopes as well as the risks and disappointments.

“I view the alliance as a complicated love relationship — evoking and satisfying desires for connection through the processes of teaching and learning,” said Oglensky, a professor and academic director of sociology for the CUNY School of Professional Studies.

Mentorships can introduce the protégé (she dislikes the term mentee) to new ways of thinking, new social circles, and exciting collaborations, but because of power dynamics, they can also lead to conflict and disillusionment. She focuses on mentorships in which participants become involved in each other’s work and personal lives, rather than the more practical, job-based mentoring that has become popular today.

She wrote Ambivalence in Mentorship to help people understand the complicated emotional dynamic inherent in the relationship. She interviewed more than 100 mentors and protégés for the book and heard similar themes: Feelings of idealization and admiration towards a mentor can lead to less desirable feelings of dependence and disappointment. Loyalty and devotion can lead to conformity, not speaking one’s mind, or a sense of infidelity and betrayal, which can be difficult for both members of the relationship to navigate. For the mentor, there’s often anxiety around what it means to have such a strong influence on someone.

Oglensky’s advice to mentors and protégés is to hang in there when emotional struggles and disappointments emerge and try to work through them. “Some of the most satisfying and productive mentorships I’ve encountered were those in which parties had figured out ways to navigate or reconcile difficult feelings,” she said.


Beyond SUM

Book Cover: 'Ambivalence in Mentorship: An Exploration of Emotional Complexities' by Bonnie Oglensky
Buy This Book

Explore This Work
Ambivalence in Mentorship: An Exploration of Emotional Complexities
Routledge, 2018

Work By
Bonnie Oglensky (Academic Director, Sociology and Human Relations Programs) | Profile 1

Colleges and Schools
School of Professional Studies

Bonus Content
“Dr. Bonnie Oglensky Publishes Ambivalence in Mentorship” (SPS)

Related Terms

Beyond SUM