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Reflections on Mentorship from the End of the Road

We have made it to the end of another academic year. Almost. Maybe we don’t want to start celebrating too early on account of there’s still some marking to do, but if you’ve made it this far I’m willing to bet you’ll make it across the finish line. Being away on residency for this year has separated me from the actual regular annual cycle of the graduate student, but it’s fascinating (startling) how acute I still am to the changing of the graduate student seasons. This is the part of the year when I typically get amazed that I made it through the year, and I like to reflect. As a student at the end of my graduate school career, this year I’m reflecting a bit more broadly. This post started with a collection of reflections on how I got here, and it has transformed into thoughts on how I got through. In this next series of posts we are dedicating our thoughts to someone who has helped us progress through our grad school training successfully.

 

I’ve always been jealous of those people who knew what they wanted to do from a young age and never changed their mind, because for the rest of us choosing a meaningful and satisfying career is a hard thing to do. We chat with folks, but the lion’s share is private, internal work – matching up your character with the job that will best satisfy your needs and wants. Once in training, however, there’s a dependence our superiors, and the process becomes very much interpersonal.

 

When thinking of my most influential mentors and I try to distill from all of the factors the common component that led our relationships to be impactful in my development, I pick trust, and I think it comes from both sides of the desk. This isn’t to say that having a mentor with strong knowledge-based skills is not important, or that good listening skills don’t have a place at the table. They’re vital; along with the things that every other blog post suggests are parts of being a good mentor. What I’m suggesting is that, without trust their impact will be limited. This trust allows the mentee and mentor to explore issues that might underlie more superficial questions about skill and technique. A mentor needs to trust that the mentee will uphold minimum standards, and when they don’t meet that standard that they can make it right. We are able to learn basic skills and information from nearly anyone at point; but I believe that the most profound learning occurs in the context of mutually present trust.

 

Do you have a mentor that stands out from the rest? What was it about that person or that relationship that allowed you to develop in a way that you weren’t able to from your other mentorship relationships? Please comment below if it’s something you’d like to share, or just take a few moments to reflect on a meaningful mentorship relationship you’ve had and what you took away from it.

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