Mastery and Mentoring in Science: Type of Academic Mentors (‘Scientific Masters’) and its Meaning in Modern Science and Academic Education

The ethos of a scholar, its influence on Academia and development of science, are subject of many studies in various disciplines. This article presents conclusions resulting from research on the role and functions of scientific masters in tourism research, which included outstanding researchers (professors) of this phenomenon from several countries around the world*.

The studies indicated that the mentoring in science and the role of the so-called ‘academic masters’ or academic mentors still remains one of the most crucial fundaments of a widely understood ‘academia’. This is true even despite all the dynamic changes and in-depth reforms of modern systems of science and academic teaching, enhanced by, inter alia, new forms of communications and new forms of knowledge transfer in science.

Analysis of the lives and careers of outstanding academics and the paths they took to arrive at their positions indicates that there is no way to teach a young researcher to be a mentor in science. Moreover, there are not even general principles for how to become an “ordinary” scholar, scientists. This surely comes from the fact that science is not an ordinary profession. However we might indicate a few basic attributes that potential academic mentors should have, including in particular: lavish scientific achievements, innovation in activity, creation of novel approaches and research methods, constructing new theories; extensive scientific contacts, also international, the ability to search for scientific talents among students and good cooperation with them, and high academic ethics.

The studies helped to identify three basic types of academic mentors, who affect the attitudes of students and young scholars most owing to their splendid activity and outstanding featurs: ‘coryphaeus-guide’, ‘interpreter-canon guardian’ and ‘scholar-educator’:

  • The “Coryphaeus-guide. Coryphaeus – was a master of ceremonies, a guide upon whom greatly depended the success of a play in the Ancient Greek theater. He announced the most difficult issues and conducted the choir. An academic mentor of this sort is a kind of guide in the world of theory and research in a field. Coryphaeus-guide is a scholar of not only the highest academic abilities, but who also sees his/she work in terms of a mission, to which he devotes himself entirely, longing to overcome obstacles, make new discoveries, create entirely new research methods and theories to open new possibilities for study etc. It is an academic mentor who has the greatest significance for his/she discipline or field of study, without whom progress is hard to imagine. Coryphaeus/guide is a true academic luminary, who has not only brilliantly learned the canons of his/she field and is able to guide other researchers (particularly young ones) through the epistemological/methodological meanderings of the  discipline, but who also adopts the role of the scholar marking out new directions, and often new horizons of research in a given field. Mentors of this sort often hold the status of “founding fathers” of various fields of study.
  • The “Interpreter-defender of the canon” is a scholar for whom the purity of the canon in a field is most important, alongside concern for the fact that it is only joined by researchers of the highest standard (both in a theoretical/methodological sense, and in a formal one), defined by the structures administrating and managing academia and the academic community in the given field. Owing to his/she outstanding authority in a research community, such a scholar is an arbiter of sorts in matters concerning a given field. Opinions (or “rulings”) of defender of the cannon generally hold sway in the thought and academic work of other researchers. It is his/she opinion, to a large extent, which decides if a theory, law, research method etc. will enter the canon of knowledge in a given field, or what will be discarded at a certain moment (though this does not mean forever).
  • The “Scholar-educator” mentor is a scholar of outstanding intellectual, academic, and moral virtues, who attends to the development of the younger academics, and particularly his/she own students, in a special fashion – in a way both direct and “everyday.”. This type of mentor explains to them a scholar’s basic roles, and shows these to them in practice. Scholar-educator skillfully shows them all the twists and turns, and above all the beauty and attraction of academic work and life. Basic ambition of scholar educator mentor is to leave behind successors to continue “his/she work,” creatively unfolding it. The scholar/educator has, after all, remarkable skill in evaluating the potential of future scholars. He/she can perceive what lies hidden in them, and notices abilities and qualifications in his/she future students as they are just emerging. It would seem that this sort of mentor exerts perhaps the most influence on the processes by which the intellect is created and the shaping of upright moral postures among future scholars. Young academics should learn the right approach to scholarship from these mentors, drawing from their wisdom, because the true goal of scholar/educator mentors is to allow (at least some of) their students to achieve more than they have themselves.

Apart from the above-named types we can, most certainly, isolate many other categories of academic mentors, who can be distinguished on the basis of various criteria. However, the typology presented above seems to possess the most universal character which to the greatest extent explains the functions and tasks of mentors.

It is worth adding that similar term – in meaning and sometimes used interchangeably with the concepts of mentor and scientific master – is academic authority/scientific authority. However, there is an important difference between them, which can be summarized in the statement that while in the case of scientific authority one can talk about a certain gradualness of it, whilst in the case of a scientific master it is rather not possible. You either ARE a master of science or you ARE NOT the one.

*) The opinions presented in this article are based on the results of research project “Mentorship in Science and Academic Education“, which embraced several dozen eminent scholars from Poland and other countries, and mentee – that is ‘students of the mentors’, representing various disciplines of science involved in tourism studies. The idea was also based on my experience gathered from running the project “My Own Mentor“, realised at the Doctoral School of the University of Physical Education in Krakow in Poland.

Wiesław Alejziak – associate professor: Institute of Entrepreneurship and Management (formerly Department of Tourism Policy) at the University of Physical Education in Krakow, Poland (Head of the Institute). He specializes in broad issues of tourism policy and methodology of tourism research. Author of over 200 scientific publications pertaining to various aspects of tourism,  including 8 books. He is Editor-in-Chief of the journal „Folia Turistica” (

More information on biography and full list of publications to be found at the following website: .

Web of Science Researcher ID: AAH-2042-2020


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