Jenna Wallace Coplin

The value of mentoring relationships is well-known. Formal programs exist across professions as diverse as health care professionals, physicists, and librarians. The programs pair more experienced people with mentees in mutually beneficial relationships. Informal mentoring is what occurs at the undergraduate and graduate levels more often. These relationships are frequently short-term, as they are tied to a specific course, occasional office hours, or related to work, as in field contexts. These informal mentoring relationships can be efficient and beneficial for both participants. However, longer-term or committed mentoring relationships are also possible. These facilitate learning and professional development, and now is the time to start forging them.

The first step for any student seeking to develop a new mentoring relationship is to understand why s/he wants a mentor and what s/he hopes to get out of the mentoring process. These expectations are best considered in light of one’s current needs. It is unproductive to seek intensive mentoring for hurdles not yet relevant. A mentoring environment with clear goals and boundaries where both participants contribute to the exchange is most beneficial. Mentoring is an exchange and mentees should consider their contribution. Each mentoring relationship is unique. Knowing what one has to offer may seem a bit tricky and may not be immediately apparent. Respect for your potential mentor’s time and defined expectations, as opposed to hanging out in the mentor’s office between classes, are immediate offerings anyone has at hand. By taking a realistic approach to mentoring, students can participate in informal relationships in a manner that might facilitate more defined mentoring opportunities.

Few mentoring relationships last the span of one’s career, but many grow and change over time. Discerning whom you can ask for input regarding particular issues contributes to building multiple important connections. These conversations are the beginning of professional relationships. These relationships, if respectfully and well maintained, in turn can become foundational.

Although mentors often are within one’s field, exchanges across disciplines can be rewarding. Partners can share distinct perspectives and offer expertise and a different type of objectivity. These experiences and others shape one’s unique contributions to one’s own mentoring network.

Typically, mentoring relationships are seen as senior professionals taking on students or recent graduates as a means to both assist in the development of young scholars and engage an ever-expanding network of new potential colleagues. Mentoring relationships can help span transitions facing students and young professionals at a variety of points. Becoming a mentor has its own benefits. It increases communication skills, points to one’s developing professional competence, and increases awareness of the potentials and responsibilities of the process. In other words, being a mentor makes one a better mentee.

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