I am privileged to have been invited to contribute as a mentor to several different mentoring schemes, some linked to my University post and other through my involvement in professional societies. I hope that by describing my experiences here, it might encourage others to also take on a mentoring role.
The main purpose of the mentoring schemes I have been involved in has been to help people achieve their potential, and progress in their career. It is surprising how often people underestimate themselves, or fail to recognise their strengths, or articulate them well enough to get their rightful success in for example a job application or a promotion round.
Mentoring gives people protected time to reflect and think through the options and the mentor can sometimes suggest new opportunities for the mentee to consider and reflect on the best way to use their talents. This is especially important after people have suffered a knock back, whether this is not getting a grant, or a new job, or just because the working environment has become problematic. At these points people need reassurance and encouragement to have the confidence to go back and try again. All of us will ‘fail’ at some time but this does not mean we are failures.
My experience is that the mentor is normally not part of the mentee’s employing institution, therefore their advice is be unbiased, with no hidden agenda. Mentees report on the feeling that the mentor is ‘just there for them’, and value highly their time with the mentor. Mentoring sessions are very much mentee led, therefore no two interactions are the same. However, it is generally listening and encouraging and giving people protected time. As a mentor when you get an email saying ‘I could not have done it without your support’ it more than repays the time involved, although I often am not sure what I have done other than be a listening friend. In a small way I try and use my own experience to help the mentee understand there are many different ways to achieve a goal, and that positivity and resilience are important personal skills to develop. These days everyone balances so many demands of work and home that many difficult decisions need to be made, often requiring a compromise. People need support to come to a decision that is the right one for them.
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