University and the life beyond offer many opportunities to be mentored and to mentor. If you are soon to embark on your HE career you may find students who are one or two years above you offer mentoring. Similarly if you have graduated, or will soon be entering your final year, there may be the chance to be mentored by an alumnus of your institution. Should you embark on this relationship? What might you gain from it?
What do you want from mentoring?
The single most important thing is to be clear about what you hope to gain through the mentoring process. If you’re starting out in your degree what can an older student offer? An explanation of academic work which you find difficult? Advice on whom you can approach within the department for support on different matters? Help in understanding what you need to do to ensure that you avoid academic malpractice or plagiarism? Support when you have to make module choices? A friendly face when you feel lonely or homesick?
Some of this support falls easily within the remit of a peer mentoring relationship. Some might be more problematic. An older student is not necessarily the right person to support you if you’re finding work difficult. Advice a peer will give you on module choice is always going to be subjective and based on the student’s own experience, preferences and ability. Yours may be different.
Your hopes from the relationship may be different if you’re a graduate or finalist. You’re likely to be focussing on career support. Perhaps you want an insight into a particular career path, ideas on how to get into a particular profession or occupation, or even introductions to useful contacts? If you’re at Warwick why not see what support is being offered in your chosen career area.
What does your mentor want to offer?
The key to a successful relationship between mentor and mentee is the sharing of a vision about the relationship and what can be offered. A mentor is offering to give up time to support the mentee. That’s an altruistic thing to do, it’s important to make the maximum use of what is being offered without abusing the kindness of the mentor.
It’s easier to get the balance right when the relationship is between students, more care is needed if you have linked up with an alumnus from your university. Try to ask for information and don’t have an expectation that your mentor will hand over lists of useful contacts or be able to offer you meaningful work experience. Let the relationship develop through emails or perhaps over coffee and allow trust to build. It may be that, in time, your mentor will be able to offer you a real leg up the career ladder.
How do you set realistic expectations?
Talk to one another! Try asking what the other person hopes to get out of the relationship. Be up front about what you hope to gain, or what you want to offer. Where there is a clear mismatch in expectations, then talk this through and see if you can find a middle way. If you can’t find agreement then this particular relationship is probably not going to work out! Think about whether there might be better to look for another partner or rethink the whole idea of mentoring.
What if you don’t actually get on with your mentor/mentee?
A successful mentoring relationship normally requires some “chemistry” between the two parties. You don’t have to be best friends but it certainly helps if there is mutual respect and it is a good idea to work on building trust. If you are the mentee, then let your mentor define the early limits of the relationship, how you should make contact, how often and in what way. You need to allow time for the trust to build.
And final tips?
I asked Megan McMellon (2014-15 President of the University of Warwick Law Society) for her comments. She identifies a number of “positives” from one of the many schemes run at Warwick:
“The Law Society Mentoring Scheme, (sponsored by Allen & Overy), has been extremely successful over the last few years. It provides an enormous amount of support to first year students, particularly in relation to academic skills and career planning. As well as giving you the opportunity to develop mentoring skills, becoming a mentor enables you to reflect on your own time at Warwick. Furthermore, the “family” structure of the scheme enables both mentors and mentees to get to know several other students, strengthening relationships between different year groups.”
And my thoughts?
1. Approach the mentoring with a positive mindset, it definitely won’t work out if you are negative.
2. Why not give it a go, you don’t have anything to lose!
3.Try to enjoy the time you spend together. You might both have things to learn!