Travelling through the Lane of Mentorship

By Amarachi Okpunobi

No successful man ever made it to the top without guidance. Guidance from a good  friend, father, mother, teacher or any person who in his imperfections sees the greatness and perfections in others. Such person is called a mentor.

From birth, the neonate thirsts for guidance on how to hold the breast and suck the breast milk. Then  the baby is guided on how to carry his head while he learns to sit without a stirrup. The same way the child learns how to crawl and walk with guidance, avoiding things and places that may be dangerous to him.

As he begins cecular education, he is mentored on talking, writing and human relations. This guidance continues as the child grows and develops into an adult. Even in adulthood, the human person still needs a guide who invariably is the mentor.

Mentorship provides a myraid of benefits for both the mentee and mentor. It provides the mentee with options to choose and make informed decisions about crucial matters in his life. It is important for the mentee to always remember that it is not on the part of the mentor to make decisions for him, but to help him shed light on things which can affect life decisions.

The mentee is not also in anyway compelled to always accept what the mentor says as a final option but should give a good consideration to what the mentor has to offer before making a decision, because that is why he is your mentor.

On the other hand,  mentorship also exposes the mentor to a variety of opinions about his own life and what good decisions can offer. Therefore, it is not only wise but imperative that mentorship is navigated thoughtfully. When the right direction is not to followed, not only will it be deleterious in the life of the mentee but also life threatening to him.

At a younger age, it was easy for me to say that my mentors were the great people I listened to on radio, saw on television or even read their books. Don’t get it twisted anyway, having an audio mentor is not totally bad but mentorship requires a physical, one-on-one encounter as it is a two-way street.

No-body had to tell me that I needed to get a mentor whom I can reach physically, sit, talk and share life experiences with. It wasn’t easy finding one but I am happy I found a mentor and not a motivational speaker on radio, television or a person whose book I have read.

When choosing a mentor,  what do you consider? Before you choose or consider one a mentor, there are certain things that you should put in place. Ask questions like, will my mentor see me as a mentee? Is he within my reach or what are the possibilities of seeing him periodically? Does he have time to guide me?

If he has time, is his life worthy of emulation? What do I need from him? Can he respect my choices too? What kind of relationship can I share with him? These and other questions are what you possibly should answer before choosing a mentor.

When these questions are answered wisely and correctly it exposes the mind of the mentee to what kind of person he looks out for as a mentor. That way, the expected relationship he will create between him and his mentor will be beneficial and healthy to both of them.

Now let’s share some tips that can help us make a good choice of mentors and have a healthy relationship bearing in mind that we can have more than one mentors.

Identify what type of mentor you want:

First identify your needs and what you want and look out for. Do you want a long term mentoring relationship or a short term?  Do you just need an advice on a topic or a decision  and after which  the relationship is dissolved and done with? Defining your goal sets you on the right path and gives you a transparent view on what you want for yourself, remember not what your mentor wants because this relationship is greatly for you the mentee.

A school of thought classified mentors as traditional mentors, coaches and sponsors. A traditional mentor provides formal, long-term guidance on career development, scientific projects and work/life balance.

Coaches are people who focus on the development or improvement of a particular skill or infrequent issue, like finding a job, negotiating an offer, crafting scientific presentations, writing manuscripts or designing experiments. In general, coaches spend less time with you, but make a significant impact in a certain area.  Their relationships can be terminated once the objective for the relationship has been achieved.

Sponsors are senior scientists who have garnered substantial political capital. A sponsor is committed to the career development of an individual and uses their influence to advocate for and advance mentees. Sponsors help you join prestigious committees, advance in professional organizations or join grant study sections.

Choose Your Mentor Wisely

This requires wisdom more than I can emphasise because your choice of a mentor can either propel or decelerate your success. A mentor partly plays a role in metamorphosing your life into what he thinks is best for  you. Your choice of mentor will affect the success of your mentoring relationship. Begin your search by identifying highly successful individuals whom you respect and want to emulate.

Keep in mind that their personal attributes (patience, altruism, empathy, work-life balance, etc.) matter just as much as their accomplishments. Additionally, asking someone you trust to help you find a mentor can help broaden your search and allow you to gain access to mentors you might otherwise be unable to reach. While you search, put in consideration his schedules to help you manage your time and probably his time.

Set Realistic Expectations

What were the reasons you obtained a mentor? Now set them clear here. Define your goals! Define and communicate your goals ahead of each one-on-one meeting with your mentor. Brainstorm about short-term goals that can help you accomplish your end goal. Set achievable goals for the mentoring relationship and recognize that personal development will take time.

All mentoring relationships should start with a clear understanding between the mentee and mentor of what the mentee is looking for and what the mentor is prepared to offer. A mismatch in expectations here is one of the key reasons that these relationships fail.

  • Take Ownership of the Mentoring Relationship

This is your life, take charge of it. The relationship began to exist because you wanted it not greatly important to the mentor, so take ownership. He’s leaving his other engagements for you to grow and develop into your desired self, make sure he doesn’t regret it.

Now plan your own schedules and take responsibility.  Before each meeting, set up an agenda that addresses your goal, don’t go empty handed, it makes you look irresponsible and unprepared for the journey of mentorship Actively engage in discussions with thoughtful questions.

Set goals between meetings. Be open to feedback. Follow through on advice received from your mentor. Avoid time wasters in your meetings, such as arriving late, not having a clear, action-oriented agenda, straying off-topic, excessive complaining, etc.

Don’t miss your meetings but if you have to inform your mentor on time and give a genuine reason for your absence. Show gratitude for the time and advice. After the  meetings, provide feedback to your mentor. If they provided good advice on a problem, let them know what you did and how it turned out. Overall, be committed to the relationship.

Be Respectful of Your Mentor’s Time

Good mentors are successful because they manage their time wisely. As a mentee, be respectful of your mentor’s time. For example, give your mentor enough time to review your work (abstracts, manuscripts, grants, etc.). When you give items to your mentor, always make sure the work is high quality and worth their time for editing/critiquing.

Avoid long rambling emails, be organized and focused, embrace feedback and be responsive. Make the most of your mentor’s time. If your mentor is such that travels, appreciate his time when you leave an abstract for him to review,  constant calls reminding him of that may give the wrong impression that you are selfish about your time with him. Remember you may actually not be the only mentee he has, so be patient and follow time with him.

You’ve gotten some tips to engage in mentorship relationship. Be intentional about getting a mentor, be a great mentee and make your mentor proud. Make the most out of each other’s time.

Good luck in your mentoring journey.

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