Tuesday, September 10, 2013

On Mentorship, and Being a Good Mentee

As part of the campus minority mentoring program, I met my new mentor today on campus and she is awesome! I am looking forward to speaking with her more about her experiences on campus,  and learning more about the overall campus landscape.

This led me to write today's blog on how to find mentors, and how to identify great mentors. Whether you are currently in a graduate program, or preparing to apply for a program, it is important to find mentors who can guide you in the process.

Where to Find Mentors
There are many types of mentors that you can have, whether they are younger or older, someone who has skills or life examples to share with you can be a mentor. Mentoring can be for a set period of time, or can even be life-long.  Mentors can be part of your community or family. Mentors can be found at the workplace, at professional associations, structured mentoring programs, and even through contacting and getting to know professors who conduct research that interests you.  Some are assigned to you, and some mentoring relationships naturally develop from inspiring conversations.

I have found some of my best mentors at church, at work, at academic conferences, and at professional association events. There's no need to ask if he/she would officially be your mentor, although it's also fine if you do. Just spending time with the person, letting them know that you value their experiences and advice is often enough to cultivate a respectful and inspiring relationship.

What Makes a Great Mentor?
A great mentor is someone who has important life experience and advice to share, someone who is willing to share wisdom with you for your learning benefit. A great mentor is a good listener, and is someone who is interested in supporting your academic and career development. A great mentor is encouraging and inspires you to achieve the next levels of success. Finally, a great mentor is someone you can contact, and is approachable when you need words of advice. Mentors are also excellent at writing great letters of recommendation for you as they are familiar with your capacity and willingness to succeed!

Your Role - What Makes a Good Mentee?
According to The Mentee's Guide by Lois J. Zachary, an effective mentee should have a personal vision of the future, be willing to set and follow through on goals, and to establish a mentoring agreement of goals, milestones, and a work plan.

Consider what your goals are, the skills you are interested in developing, where you plan to be in the next few years, and whether you have the energy and motivation to follow through on the necessary steps for personal growth.

In terms of a work plan or milestones, my mentoring relationships have tended to be more friendly and informal, and because I know that we are all busy people, I let the discussions be as frequent or as infrequent based on our personalities and other obligations.  However, I suppose it is possible that the more structure there is, the better.

Best Mentoring Moments
My best mentoring memories are informal talks where my mentor shared a story of when they were in my predicament, and what they decided to do.  Sharing personal stories and testimonies is always a powerful tool as it allows the listener to walk in your shoes for a moment. Another inspiring moment in mentoring was when my mentor encouraged me to apply for a PhD program when I had not even been considering the idea.  Other powerful, empowering mentoring experiences involved my mentor suggesting a project or inviting me to be part of a research project. It is amazing how one person can inspire others to achieve success.

Not all mentoring relationships are going to work out. People are not always compatible and perhaps the mentor will be too busy to contact you when you really would appreciate their help and advice. Perhaps the mentor does not inspire, but intimidates. Or, it is possible that a mentor may provide advice that may not apply to you. It is fine to end a mentoring relationship if it does not work well for you. There are many other opportunities to meet new mentors and to learn even from this experience.

Don't Give Up
By all means, be sociable and network with your classmates, professors, and social organizations. You will eventually meet individuals that you admire and look up to. Some of them will be willing to reach out and share their advice and stories with you.

(photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thompsonrivers/5147888846/ via http://photopin.com http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/)

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