What is a mentor? Is a mentor the same thing as a faculty advisor?
The term “mentor” comes from The Odyssey where Odysseus asked his friend Mentor to help watch over his son Telemachus while Odysseus was away at the Trojan War. Twenty years later, the goddess of wisdom Athena disguises herself as Mentor to provide Telemachus crucial advice at the start of the epic story: to investigate what happened to his father.
A mentor can be a trusted guide, or counselor. A mentor has expertise and can assist the mentee or learner. “Mentor: learning from someone who wants you to grow.”
Some see a mentor as a coach or a role model. A person who can provide a support system. They can help with career advancement or provide insight in how to navigate a difficult situation.
Mentoring can be formal with a specific set agenda and outcomes. Mentoring also can be informal. Most of my experience has been informal both as a mentee and as a mentor. When I ask a career question of a mentor who I see as a role model – it usually occurs in an informal setting. As John C. Crosby says, “Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.”
An important key to success in any mentoring relationship is respect and trust. Both parties must find value in the mentoring process. Keep in mind that mentoring is a dynamic process and changes over time.
One mentor may not serve all your needs as a mentee. You may find you’re best served by a matrix of mentors – more than one. Can your faculty advisor be a good mentor for you? Sometimes, it depends.
One faculty advisor can’t do it all. They may not have the answers to all your questions. You may find your major professor is great at directing you in your research but may not be able to assist you in seeking a career outside of the academy. That’s why it’s important to seek out several mentors; you can gain from their varied experience.
You also may find that your colleagues can serve as peer mentors. Peer mentors were so important to my success and they were a life line for me.
One student recently shared the following. “I had a question – How do comps work? I was uncomfortable to ask questions about things. I wish I had met with students in the 3rdand 4thyears and asked them – What does it look like? Can I bringfood?”
Peer mentors can give you inside information about committee members. Having the right committee members is key to your success in finishing your degree. You need them to be responsive and read your work in a timely manner. You need them to get along, so you can avoid being caught in the crosshairs of opposing political views that have nothing to do with you or your research. That’s where I found peer mentors so helpful.
One of my peer mentors shared valuable insight. She said, “You don’t want Prof X and Prof Y on you committee; they don’t get along.” Another peer mentor told me, “Prof Z never reads, and it takes months before you get any feedback if any at all.”
Mentoring is a way to pass on what it is you know. Be a wise-advice giver. Seek out many as well. I know that if I didn’t have mentors I would not have finished graduate school, navigated successfully through the tenure process, and been a Graduate Dean.
“If you cannot see where you are going, ask someone who has been there before.” J Loren NorrisIt’s that simple.