Meaningful Mentorship: Tips on the Mentor/Mentee Experience

By NMRC Youth Advisory Council, Reprinted from National Mentoring Resource Center

1. How do you ask someone you would like to mentor you? (assuming this is a non-facilitated situation/environment)

a. Asking someone about a possible mentorship can be a scary task. But often, people are excited about having the opportunity to pass on their knowledge to the next generation of people in their field. Start with a compliment or a general reasoning for why you are drawn to them as a person. What about where they are in their education or career, and their character makes you want to be their mentee? Next, explain your goals. What do you hope to gain from the mentorship? This way, the person can assess accurately if they are in a position to best cater to you and your needs. If the first person you approach does not accept, don’t get discouraged! There are many people out there looking to become a mentor, and you can find the mentor that suits you best. – Rachel

b. At the end of last semester, I asked a professor at my university to mentor research that I was looking to conduct for Thesis credit. I was really nervous because I know how busy professors are, and I felt bad asking him to add something extra to his schedule. However, I was passionate about the research that I wanted to conduct, so I stopped by his office and told him what I was looking to do. It turns out he was just as excited to start this project with me. I told him my ideas, and right from the beginning he had more ideas to add on and always encouraged me to reach out to him with interesting facts I learned and  any questions that I came across. This professor has become an incredible resource and mentor to me in this process. I have come to realize that a lot of people are open and excited to help. All you have to do is ask! -Emma

c. The thought of asking someone to mentor you can sometimes be daunting or nerve racking, though it is a significant step for your own development. Here are several steps to consider when approaching a possible mentor: first, it is important to identify a possible mentor that aligns with your passions, in whichever field you choose. Once you have found a possible mentor, it is important to understand timing before you reach out to them, for example, professors usually look for assistants near the summer, so emailing them around this time could lead to a successful and helpful reply. Additionally, you might not want to email a professor near finals week, or on a Friday, as your email may get lost in the multitude of emails they may receive.

As a high schooler looking for a college research opportunity, I emailed around this time too. After finding a suitable time frame, initiate contact by conveying your admiration for their exceptional expertise and skill set, highlighting the qualities that resonate with your aspirations. Lastly, explain your goals for the experience you hope to receive and maybe even create a structure and share your commitment times of what the experience should look like so once the mentor reads your email they know exactly what your request is and how you can be valuable to them. In my own personal experience, what was most effective was getting to the point early in the email. This included a short blurb about myself and my experience in 2-3 sentences. Keeping it short is always key as professors do not have time to read long emails. I clearly stated what I wanted around the subject of the internship. I also included a “more about me section” lower down in the email, professors were able to learn more about me if they had the time, but the most important parts of my interests happened in the first parts of the email. Rather than being discouraged in the event of a rejection, continue reaching out to others to showcase unwavering passion and dedication to your chosen field, as I was rejected 3 times before I got an opportunity from a professor. By continuing to reach out and demonstrate your passion and dedication, you increase your chances of finding a mentor who can guide you in your personal and professional growth! -Aaryan

2. What does mentoring mean to you? What have you learned from your mentor?

a. To me, mentoring has served as a gateway to growth in my personal, academic, and professional life. As a first-generation college student, the college application process during my senior year was one of the most confusing times in my life. Trying to understand the financial aid process, submitting test scores, and deciding what school was right for me was daunting and overwhelming. My mentor, who had been through both undergraduate and graduate school, served as a thoughtful and reliable guide throughout the entire process. Having someone who could serve as a resource and a shoulder to lean on when the mental strain of it reached its peak allowed me to tap into my full potential and reach the destiny that I had worked so hard to pave. I realized that I didn’t have to be by myself and that there was someone always cheering me on. Because of this, I learned that being vulnerable about who I am and what goals I wanted to achieve would let me grow to heights I had only dream of reaching. – Kyndall

b. To me, mentoring is about providing access to knowledge. As a first-generation college student, I didn’t know a lot about college in general. Having someone there to guide me even informally was incredibly helpful given the intricacies: how to plan classes, where to find certain classrooms, the best place to relax before class, what good programs I should apply to, etc. ; although I could have learned them myself, over time they expedited the process considerably, and I don’t think I’d be where I am today without their help. -Wilson

3. How do you deal with a disagreement with your mentor? How have you navigated any challenges or difficult conversations with your mentor?

a. One of the most essential elements of a successful mentorship relationship is communication. Although it may be difficult at times to voice your opinions or concerns to your mentor, at the end of the day, your mentor wants what is best for you. Don’t be afraid to disagree with your mentor because working through disagreements will only strengthen and improve your relationship. Be honest and respectful in voicing your concerns. Choose the mode of communication that will best serve you. Whether you believe it is best to thoroughly express your concerns over email or discuss them freely face to face, you should comfortably and confidently communicate with your mentor to work out any disagreements. – Rachel

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