Mentors and the UniMentor Program

The campus is mayhem. The students are back and the academic year has kicked into gear. And that means that UWA and the Student Guild have a number of activities and events to help make the transition to university life easier. These include the O-Day Carnival, various orientation presentations and the option to have a ‘UniMentor’ – a student from a higher year level who can show you the ropes around campus.

Last semester I was a postgraduate UniMentor, hosting two new international students through their first few weeks on campus. This involved completing an introductory seminar and associated online tests (excellently organised by the Student Assist team!) and then jumping in to get to know my students. I was helpful in showing them around campus, telling them about how to use some of the online materials and then helped them sort out their timetables. I was also able to feed back some of their comments and concerns to various other committee I participated in last semester.I thoroughly enjoyed my experience as a UniMentor, and I hope that my students benefitted from the experience, but it did leave me questioning the role of a mentor and what a mentor would mean to me.

This is my fourth involvement with a mentoring program. I had a mentor at my previous workplace, and one organised through one of the academic institutions I’m involved with. I have also been a mentor at my previous workplace. So I feel like I should be familiar with what a mentor is supposed to be able to do – however I don’t feel comfortable with the idea at all. All of these mentoring relationships have been about familiarising myself (or someone else) with a workplace or environment, and providing (or receiving) advice on how to solve problems. None have really been about what I always thought a mentor should be – helping you resolve a plan of attack for where you might be going, by talking to someone who has already been there.

After attending more presentations on developing your career (both academic and otherwise) than you could poke a proverbial stick at, one of the take-home messages was about the importance of a mentor. But no one ever really discussed what a mentor SHOULD be – how do you know who they are, what they should do and how to contact them?

I had a discussion about this with a good friend who is currently racing up the corporate ladder in pharmaceuticals. I asked her if she had a mentor, and if not who she would ask to be her mentor. Similar to me, she had someone that she could go to when in need of advice, who knew the pharmaceuticals game, but she didn’t know if this was someone who inspired her to greatness or could be used as inspiration in her own journey.

There is someone who I admire on a professional level. She’s been CEO of corporations, she has a similar political attitude to me. She’s confident, she’s intelligent, she’s respected and she knows how to get things done. I feel like she would make an excellent mentor for someone. But is she the right person for me? I can’t help but end up exactly where I started with many of these ideas – concerned that so much of these initiatives are hard to move forward with when I don’t know where I’m going. How can I find a mentor to guide me on the path to where I’m going if I don’t know where I’m going?

In the meantime, I’m trying to keep my networks as wide as possible and, as always, take advantage of whatever opportunities I have available to me to meet with inspiring people, learn more about their work and think about how it could fit within my own skills and knowledge area. And most of all, I’m taking the opportunity to be excited about the unknown challenges that lie ahead.

I would like to thank the Student Assist team for organising the UniMentor program, and to my mentors for providing me with the enriching experience. I was awarded the 2015 Postgraduate UniMentor Mentee’s Choice Award.

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