Mentoring is Valuable
I’ve had at least one mentor at a time as a student at Georgia Tech because I recognize the rewards that come with mentoring. Georgia Tech has a vast network of Alumni who want to give back and help current students. Alumni are wonderful because they have gone through similar experiences as former students and have “gotten out” (graduated) from the university. My first mentor was an upperclassman civil engineering student who gave me advice on course scheduling, ways to be involved on campus, how to find an internship, and about study abroad opportunities. With this experience, I now serve as a mentor for an underclassman in civil engineering.
I have found both the role of being a mentor and a mentee valuable in my life for numerous reasons. Mentors can provide advice from their unique experiences and connect you with professionals in industry outside of your network. Mentoring is rewarding not only because you are able to support someone, but also because you can improve your own communication and leadership skills, as well as learn from your mentee. I think it is easier to be a mentee who has almost everything to learn and can soak up knowledge like a sponge. It is more difficult to be a mentor that is relatable, that can provide opportunities, and balance praise with criticism.
How to Find and Work with a Mentor
I currently have two mentors who are in different sectors of civil engineering and are of different gender and ethnicity. I’ve found mentors by reaching out to professors and through social connections. I had to be proactive and seek out people willing to mentor. I enjoy having two mentors that have unique ways of addressing my goals and providing me feedback. Having a mentor very similar to me helps me realize my potential and the opportunities I have as a female in civil engineering. Because I have a mentor with a different background than my own, I’ve become more open to unfamiliar viewpoints and opportunities I would never have considered.
For starters, mentees are responsible for establishing short term and long-term goals they can work towards with a mentor. Good mentors can get mentees out of their comfort zone in order to learn new things and expand their skills to better achieve their goals.
Giving and Receiving Feedback
In order to have a comfortable and professional relationship with a mentor, the mentee also has role expectations in the relationship. Mentees must be respectful and attentive to receiving both constructive and supportive feedback. Mentees should show their mentor they appreciate their help and provide them with feedback on what they have learned from them (Peterson, 2013). It is expected that mentors provide equally specific constructive and supportive feedback, so mentees know exactly what they are doing well and what needs improvement to reach their goals (University of Washington, 2019). It is also important to understand each other and how culture might affect how each person interprets feedback. For example, Americans tend to wrap positive feedback around negative feedback. The Dutch tend to be honest and give feedback directly (Meyer, 2015). One might be offended if they received direct critical feedback if it is not common or widely acceptable in their culture.
Developing Leadership Skills
Another valuable skill mentoring has helped me with is leadership. Developing leadership skills starts by self-awareness and knowing your best qualities that help you communicate with others. Focusing on how your behaviors influence relationships will help you improve them. Additionally, being a leader means recognizing how others communicate, being culturally aware and empathetic to other people. When people feel that you care about them and they can trust you, they are more open to you as a leader. A mentor can help you identify your best communication skills and train you to actively listen to others and facilitate discussions where others feel comfortable providing inputs (Vora, 2014).
Meyer, E. (2015). Giving Negative Feedback Across Cultures [Web Article]. Retrieved from https://knowledge.insead.edu/blog/insead-blog/giving-negative-feedback-across-cultures-4259
Petersen, D. (2013). Carole Robin: Feedback is a Gift [Web Article]. Retrieved from https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/insights/carole-robin-feedback-gift
University of Washington (2019). Mentoring Guides for Students [Web Page]. Retrieved from http://grad.uw.edu/for-students-and-post-docs/core-programs/mentoring/mentoring-guides-for-students/
Vora, T. (2014). Indispensable Traits of a Collaborative Leader: Part 3 [Web Article]. Retrieved from http://qaspire.com/2014/05/11/indispensable-traits-of-a-collaborative-leader-part-3/