A mentor can be practically anyone – a peer, an older student, a professor in your field or beyond, an academic advisor, a professional working in the real world – the possibilities are endless! This is due to the fact that a mentor can take on a variety of roles depending on the individual and their situation and goals. UW Graduate School’s Mentoring Guides for Students defines some of these roles as “a guide, counselor, adviser, consultant, tutor, teacher and guru” whose job is to “assist your educational, professional and personal growth”. In the end if whoever you choose as a mentor is helping you learn and grow professionally and/or individually, they are doing their job as a good mentor! But how do you choose a good mentor? When starting your search it is important to first analyze what you are looking to gain from a mentorship. If it is knowledge of a graduate school program, looking towards current upper level graduate students would be a good place to start. If it professional development such as career search and leadership skills, seeking a mentor who is in the field would offer you the most benefit. It’s also important to remember that you can have more than one mentor. In fact it’s even better to have a team of mentors. Having multiple people you can go to for help and advice increases your chance of success because people can’t be successful on their own! Throughout the process of finding a mentor and benefitting from the relationship you must be committed, proactive, and open to new ideas as well as criticism. Without this you will not grow into the person you have the potential to be.
Some believe people are born leaders and some believe you can gain leadership skills and grow into the position. Either way there are basic attributes that categorize a good leader. Tonmay Vora acknowledges the most common skills that define a leader - vision, charisma, thinking, intellect, decisiveness, clarity, confidence and action-orientation, but continues on to define the attribute that distinguishes a good leader: self-awareness. These individuals will be able to drive results across diverse groups of people, transcending any challenges because of their awareness of themselves and their team. It is important to acknowledge that any group you will be a part of in this day and age will bring a variety of ages, personalities, cultures, and ideas. Having a “continuous and growing understanding of one’s strengths, weaknesses, emotions, moods, values, attitudes and personality traits” as well as of those around them allows a leader to play on everyone’s strengths to the advantage of the team’s goals. Strong leaders are also not afraid to seek feedback. This allows them to keep assessing their strengths, weaknesses, and progress in order to continuing gaining success.
Feedback is fundamental in an individual’s professional development. It can however, be scary to seek out and hear because it isn’t (and shouldn’t) always be positive. One important thing to remember when giving feedback is to focus on changeable behavior rather than personality. You are not trying to change the person, but rather motivate them to problem solve. Another important consideration is the feedback methods of the cultures you are working with or in. While some cultures have very direct feedback customs, those words can be viewed as blunt and rude to those that are used to softer feedback.
In our Ted Turner Corridor Design Challenge group I have already seen the individual benefit of mentorship, leadership, and feedback as well as how they all work together. Our mentor has been consistently there to advise us on our progress and give us feedback, in particular in how we decided to break down the project and our community engagement plan. Our mentor is also a sort of leader to us, guiding us in this process since she is much more familiar with the different design phases and project management. Our group has also chosen to play on each team members’ individual strengths and passions to make them leaders of sub groups we have chosen for the project. We regularly ask for feedback on each sub group’s progress from all team members.