Mentoring is an effective and simple way to engage and support people and professionals to unleash their full potential. But the task isn't easy, and it is increasingly being confused with supervision.
Mentoring can help people envision where they want to go and what they want to accomplish, as well as help them think through the strategies and tactics that can lead them there. But while the potential to thrive in these roles is vast, the opportunities to obtain this training and experience are limited – at times, linked to privilege.
What's more, mastering the art of mentoring isn't easy and it is increasingly being confused with supervision.
A recent webinar, backed by the Marie Curie Alumni Association and held in June, helped explore the realities of being a mentor and how to do it, best.
Identifying the mentor is crucial.
“Someone managed to see in me what I could not see and then had the generosity, to give me the time and interest in my work and goal,” said Matthew Collins, a professor of biomolecular archaeology at the University of Copenhagen. “It's really about time and empathy… that motivates others.”
Collins led the webinar with Alan J. Grodzinsky, a professor of biological, electrical, and mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who quickly warned of the need to distinguish between mentoring and supervision.“Supervisors,” he said, “help you think about your next move and what you have been doing [for example] in the lab and what it means, whereas a mentor is a mentor not just within the field science and engineering, for example, which you may be focused on, but in life.”
A mentor, Grodzinsky, explained, “can recognise when you are thinking about other things, providing a broader and more personal guidance to what you are doing.”
And that, experts say, ultimately helps empower mentees to unleash their full potentials, achieving their goals.
“It's an issue, almost, of personal connection,” said Grodzinsky. “Yes, we're always thinking about what's next, what's next in the lab, what's the next exciting thing you may do in terms of an experiment, but at the same time it is very important, as a mentor, to establish an environment where a person can come in and think about how they can make the next step for themselves.”
“It's really important to empower the person to believe that they can make the next step and think for themselves and not to have to rely directly on the supervisor.”
“And at the end of the day, it's good to be able to sit down and have a beer with the student or any kind of mentee because that enables you to get passed the particulars of an experiment and to think also about what may be going on in the orchestra across the street and what's playing at the movies.