Becoming a Mentor: 10 Things to Ponder

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Being a mentor is incredibly rewarding. The following tips can help current and prospective mentors get the most out of the experience.

Becoming a Mentor: 10 Things to Ponder
Credit: Stmool / © 2022

I have been a mentor for over four years. My first mentoring experience was with the Michigan IT Mentor program at the University of Michigan. The program is open to IT professionals, instructional designers, and technologists. Since being accepted into the program, I have mentored six people.

Three years ago, I joined the ID2ID Peer Mentoring Program, a joint initiative of EDUCAUSE and Penn State. I have participated in the ID2ID program as a mentor and as a mentee, and both experiences have been amazing!

As a mentor, I have learned a lot about knowledge-sharing, collaboration, and process improvement. If you are interested in becoming a mentor, here are a few things to consider.

  1. Mentors and mentees can be from different disciplines. Mentoring can be between colleagues in the same discipline or different ones. I have mentored IT colleagues, instructional designers, instructional technologists, and nursing staff. Even when I mentored someone from another area of specialization, I still learned about processes improvement, communication, and strategies to accomplish just about anything. I am currently advocating for nursing staff to try out mentoring with non-nursing colleagues.
  2. A mentor doesn't have to have more experience than a mentee. Someone with less work experience can mentor someone with more experience if both people are open and committed to the process. Similarly, a mentor can be from the same department as a mentee but have a different level of experience and education.
  3. Don't let the fear of not being good enough prevent you from becoming a mentor. I have struggled (and still do to some extent) with impostor syndrome. Are there gators (or crocodiles) of self-doubt running around in your head? Tie them up. I usually tell them to SIT! They are not in charge. (I love anything zoo or animal-related, so I couldn't resist the analogy.)
  4. A mentor is not a "sage on the stage." If you think that a mentor is someone who is in power for whatever reason, you are not ready to be in this role. Mentoring isn't about status and power; it's about broadening your perspective. Enter the relationship with the goals of learning and sharing.
  5. Resolve interpersonal issues right away. You won't get along with everyone. Sometimes, personality conflicts become obvious within the first two weeks, and sometimes they appear much later. Regardless of when the problem starts, stay on top of it. Talk to the coordinators of your mentoring program. If you need to switch to a different mentee or a mentor—do it! When I experienced a similar issue (in a different context), I was afraid to say something. That's why I strongly encourage everyone to speak up and do something about it—as difficult as that may be.
  6. Keep an open mind. To avoid interpersonal issues, establish clear boundaries from the start, but give yourself and your mentee a chance to learn. Mistakes will be made, and miscommunication will happen. Talk with your mentee about what would make the experience meaningful for both of you.
  7. Attend FREE professional events together. Selecting and attending events with your mentee is a great way to build your relationship and meet your professional development needs at the same time. Alternatively, you could suggest a few events and ask your mentee which one sounds the most appealing. I attended a conference with my mentees in 2021. While we only had time to attend two talks, we received presentation handouts later, reviewed other talks we were interested in, and discussed what we had learned. Debrief each other after the event to ensure that you're not just checking a box—you're using the knowledge you have gained.
  8. Respect your mentee's professional and personal background. If something is unclear, ask for clarification. Don't make a snap judgment or jump to a conclusion.
  9. Don't take on more mentees than you can handle. Keep your head clear. For the most part, I have not had more than two mentees at a time. While I could mentor a small group of four, I don't recommend this approach. For an optimal experience, I suggest taking on two mentees at the most. One time, I took on a third mentee, but that was because one of my former professors asked if I would mentor a student to help the student get more learning experiences. Overextending yourself or your mentees isn't good for anyone.

    You should meet with your mentees individually and as a group. Goals, interests, and project work should be aligned as much as possible. This way, everyone enters the mentoring experience with an outcome in mind. During my most recent mentoring experience, my mentees and I developed a presentation and resource list about how to create accessible videos. Everyone should have a positive experience.

  10. Have fun! Mentoring experiences are extremely valuable. Being a mentor will make you a better leader and a better educator—regardless of your field.

Becoming a mentor is an excellent way to make meaningful connections with other people at your institution. By providing guidance and support to one or more of your colleagues, you can help advance their professional goals while deepening your understanding of your institution, gaining leadership skills, and promoting your own professional development.

Irene Knokh is an Instructional Design Technology Consultant (Instructional Learning Senior) at University of Michigan.

© 2022 Irene Knokh. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.