being a mentor – gaining ‘experience’

This is a guest post from Dr Michael Trikic (@MichaelTrikic), Thesis Mentor and Technical Team Leader in the Department of Multidisciplinary Engineering Education (you can read about Michael’s teaching role in Engineering here).

Reflections Picture1.jpgA recent job application and interview caused me to reflect on my career and working life. As part of this I considered mentoring: my mentors and mentees, and informal and formal mentoring including Thesis Mentoring, v i s t a, career mentoring and the GROW mentoring schemes. I concluded that mentoring has been instrumental for me getting to where I am now – doing work I enjoy and want to do. But how?

I clearly remember the mentors I have had during my career. Most of them were informal and perhaps were unaware they were mentoring me. What they had in common was that they all asked killer questions that triggered thought and action, or taught and inspired me through their actions. A killer question was “What does your cv have to look like to get a job doing that?” (that focused me!). I was lucky to be able to observe inspirational leadership in action through Prof. Wendy Barclay.

In this context we might imagine the mentor as a wholly positive figure, but there are also some who taught me what I didn’t want to be and do, whether these people can be classified as mentors is a moot point, or discussion for another day, and to be had with help from experts. But those were valuable experiences too.

Additionally, there are numerous occasions when I have learned from those who I have mentored. Many times this has been when a mentee has acted in an unpredictable way to resolve a problem or has changed their mind set. A good example was when a single meeting with a thesis writer who was paralysed by a lack of confidence was enough to spark a new way of thinking and get them back into action. We had more meetings to keep up the new momentum, but all the work had been done by the mentee, who was now able to see the other side of the coin through being able to ‘think out loud’ with a person external to their situation.   

My motivation for becoming a mentor was that I wanted to ‘gain more experience’, although at the time I didn’t really know what this meant. However with time, mentor training and the experience of working 1:1, I now understand the value of being a mentor. I’ve mentored PGRs with many problems/no problems, mental and/or physical health issues, good and bad supervisors, different work practices and culture, and varied motivations.

Mentors are supported in the Thesis Mentoring programme, through 1:1 guidance from the programme leader, and through 1h lunchtime workshops on different aspects f mentoring. I found that formal training wasn’t always ‘instantly’ helpful but when I combined it with mentoring in practice, I saw the value. I even did one mentor workshop session twice, first when I was a novice and again more recently; my learning was totally different after each session.

My new role (I got the job!) involves line management. Although I hadn’t formally done this before, the experience I gained through mentoring contributed to my own belief that I was ready and able to do this. I was able to use specific examples from my mentoring experiences, in my written application and during the job interview, to evidence why I was the right person to be responsible for the well being of a team and able to motivate performance in others. It is fair to say then, that I got the experience I wanted and will continue to work on my mentoring, to make sure it keeps coming.

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