What’s in it for the mentor?
Is mentoring a one-way street, a thankless task? Quite the contrary! Mentors also stand to gain, especially when their university offers attractive incentives – training courses in mentoring, for example.
“Of course, the overriding goal of a mentoring program is to help mentees,” says Sarah Bichler, who is in her second semester as an active mentor. But mentors can learn just as much from it as their charges, she adds. For LMU’s Peer-to-Peer (P2P) mentoring program teaches students a range of soft skills, providing instruction in time management, communication and learning strategies – all vital skills that tend to receive too little attention in normal university courses.
LMU’s P2P mentoring program was set up with the intention of assisting first-year students to master the practical and psychological challenges that present themselves in the early phases of a university education. More advanced students who already know the ropes serve as guides to their juniors during the first two semesters, providing tips on course organization and university routines, and helping them to adjust to life in Munich. “But we don’t throw our mentors in at the deep end“, as Simone Kaminski, who runs the P2P mentoring program at LMU, puts it. “LMU provides a dedicated training course for student mentors, in which they learn how best to deal with the needs of their mentees and, in so doing, teaches organizational and interpersonal skills that are of enduring value in professional life.“
“Very often, it is the little things that provide important insights for mentors,” Sarah Bichler says. Take the question of time management. In a workshop on the topic, students were asked to write down how much time they would need to cope with the demands of their studies, paid job and leisure activities. The results suggested that many were budgeting for a 48-hour day! “When we looked at the returns and reported that all the participants had set themselves totally unrealizable goals, there was a collective sigh of relief from the class,” Bichler says. This simple trick underlined the importance of taking a realistic approach to time management. And that is an important lesson – not just for first-year students.
Leadership skills for mentors
For psychology student Christina Franze – who herself looks after a mentee – empathy is the most valuable quality a mentor can have. “Only a mentor who is able to put herself in her mentee’s place will be in a position to help solve the problems that come up,” she adds. “And during LMU’s training course for mentors, we learned the importance of listening attentively and respectfully to what mentees have to say – and asking the right questions.” The course confronts budding mentors with situations that can arise in realistic conversations, analyzes their reactions and responses, and suggests ways of improving how they conduct such consultations. The first commandment of successful counseling is that the mentor should never do more of the talking than the mentee.
As this example shows, mentors have the chance to pick up skills that most of their fellow-students learn only later in their working lives – when they are in line for management positions and have to take supplementary courses in leadership. “A good mentor needs precisely the same capabilities as an effective manager,” says Simone Kaminski. “Mentors who are familiar with the strategies required to find practical solutions that are both practical and acceptable to mentees will find the same approaches useful in their own later careers.”
Christina’s mentee Hannah Mair confirms this assessment: “From the very beginning, I knew I could depend on my mentor,” she says. “I could come to her at any time if there was something I needed to know – and she was always willing and able to advise me.” Particularly in her early days at LMU, Mair found it difficult to become accustomed to the unfamiliar surroundings and the new demands – and many of the tips she received from her mentor were extremely valuable: “She made it clear to me that one can’t do everything one would like to do. One must be willing to make choices, to focus on the areas one finds most interesting and most enjoyable. This is the sort of advice one never gets from one’s fellow-students who are themselves starting out on their university careers, and seldom hears from lecturers.” Where students can certainly help each other is in matters relating to specific professors, tests and choice of courses. So, as a rule, mentee and mentor should be studying the same subject. In so-called matching rounds, the P2P mentoring program tries to pair off students who have similar interests. As Simone Kaminski points out, numerous studies have demonstrated that mentoring works best when mentor and mentee have common interests. “If the pair has shared interests and similar goals, it is easier for each to understand the other’s viewpoint, and this facilitates the search for the most appropriate solution to a problem. Apart from that, of course, similarity tends to foster personal sympathy.”
Sarah‘s mentee Ana Hiebinger (28) mentions one other advantage of peer-to-peer mentoring: “I was particularly impressed by my mentor’s enormous enthusiasm for her subject,” she says. Hiebinger had taken a degree in her native Canada before she came to Munich, and she immediately enrolled as a mentee in the LMU mentoring program. “When I first arrived here, I felt a little out of place, and having a mentor who was better acquainted with the subject we were both studying – and obviously enjoyed it so much – was a great boost for me.”
For further information on how to become a mentor or register as a mentee in the Peer-to-Peer Mentoring Program, see: www.lmu.de/p2pmentoring