Happy Thanksgiving readers!
Last week I attended the 114th Annual American Anthropological Association Conference (held in Denver, CO.). It is a chance for anthropologists by training or in spirit to come together, hear new research, receive career advice, meet new people, and generally connect with people in a face-to-face context. It is quite fun. One of the panels I attended was on mentorship; the things I learned in that panel, I thought I’d pass on to you.
It is important to note that you can have more than one mentor.
Mentors may be people in your own network of people — other students, for example. Students in your major, maybe. Ideally, a mentor will be someone who has a bit more experience than you have whatever your current context is. For example, if you are a first year student, you probably want to find a mentor who is at least a year above you in school — you want to find someone who has already gone through some of the same situations you find yourself in currently and still remembers what it is like.
You may also want to find a mentor who is much older (more experienced/further along) than you. This mentor will be able to guide you in bigger picture situations. This person would be someone who is thinking more about your future career (even if you don’t know what it is going to be yet) and the future you. Maybe this person is a professor or a graduate student (if they are on your campus) or an experienced campus advisor.
Finally, you may want to find a mentor that is not in your network. This could be a former teacher (in high school?) or someone from other organizations you are connected to (church, clubs, activities, etc.). This outsider perspective can be quite handy for you as you seek advice and insight from someone who cares about you but is not in a position to need to also care about the university or the institution.
What is your role as the person being mentored?
As a mentee it is important that you keep in contact with your mentors. Depending on what is happening in your own life, it can be difficult to stay in touch; but, this is critical. A mentor needs to be able to think about you in a context: across different situations, different stages of life/student progress, and different ways of being you (as you grow into who you will become). This means you will need to be sure to reach out to your mentor consistently. For mentors who are older and/or outside your institution, you should consider connecting with them at least twice a year — at least one of which is in person, if possible. They have invested in you in the past, you want them to continue that investment (time and consideration). For mentors who are closer (someone a year older, for instance), you may connect with them at least monthly, if not more.
As a mentee you want to be sure to keep lines of communication open and easy rather than awkward. You will need your mentors for help in various times including letters of recommendation and connections to jobs or internships (for example). You should feel obligated to your mentor and to some extent s/he should feel obligated to you. This is normal for mentors/mentees.
Do you have a mentor? Did you leave one at your high school? Someone who really had your best interests in mind? If so, reach out to her/him. Send a new year’s greetings mail, catching her/him up on your situation. Keeping lines of communication open is key — not just now, but especially as you grow in your college experience and move toward graduation.