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My faculty is starting a mentorship initiative where they match undergrad students with alumni from the same program. I was contacted by one of my old professors, and asked whether or not I could be a mentor.

Now I have been in mentorship programs before; and I currently have a mentor myself, but I have always been the mentee, never the mentor. I have to say I never considered what the mentors have to gain in these programs. Is it mostly charity, in the sense that you selflessly help/guide the mentee, or are the intellectual/practical benefits to mentoring, particularly within academia?

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    (1) What type of mentoring are you providing? Helping with classes? Helping with career decisions? Helping big brother/big sister style? (2) How is this actually related to academia? – eykanal Aug 23 '13 at 11:56
  • @eykanal regarding (2), as an educator, I have thought about trying to create such a program at my school. I would be VERY interested to see the answers to this question. – earthling Aug 24 '13 at 12:41
  • @eykanal Re: (1) Help and guidance with career decisions and academic/professional advice is what the information says. Help with classes are not relevant for the sake of this question. (2) There are mentoring programs in academia, and it's very relevant as to WHY a person would want to mentor. Academia is actually pretty much built on these mentor-mentee relationships, as far as I can see. – posdef Aug 26 '13 at 7:18
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What can a mentor gain from the mentor/mentee relationship?

Altruistic answers:

  1. Passing on learned knowledge and lessons is a hallmark of a society. What you learned as a student, employee, employer, citizen, etc. is important so that once your brain and the brains of others in your generation are pushing up daisies, the knowledge isn't lost, and repeating mistakes can be avoided. Many people consider this a satisfying endeavor.

  2. As a role model, you can demonstrate moral, ethical, compassionate, etc. strategies for using the education you got from the school. Knowing that you've led someone down an ethical path is a good feeling.

  3. You can act as a sounding board for your mentee's questions about your field, and for the types of questions that don't routinely come up in class. There is a certain satisfaction in being able to answer questions based on your experience.

  4. There might be new ideas that your mentee knows about your field that you can learn from. While you pass on your wisdom, you also have the opportunity to learn some of the new ideas that are being taught today.

Less altruistic answers:

  1. Depending on your field, having been a mentor looks good on a resume or in an interview.

  2. In your case, you'll gain points with your former professor, who might be more inclined to write you a good letter of recommendation some day.

Decidedly bad answers:

  1. Steer the kid in the wrong direction, and that's one less competitor!

  2. You might get your lab cleaned because "it builds character."

  3. In academia, if your mentee has good ideas, you can steal them and publish the results yourself.

  • 3.3 reminds me of a line from Terry Pratchett's Mort. :D – TRiG Aug 23 '13 at 12:05
  • Interesting answers, thanks for a rich list. Regarding the 1st category; I suppose most of the answers assume that one is actually positive about his/her own career choices. I mean if a last year student comes up to me and asks about how it is to do research, I'd likely tell him/her to "... go get a proper job!" :) Jokes aside, I feel like being a mentor is something that might require a lot of time and energy (socially speaking, as free time is rare as it is) and it seems to boil down to good will. – posdef Aug 26 '13 at 7:23
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I view this as "paying it forward": someone who has received good mentoring advice should pass this onwards to others.

In addition, it's a way of encouraging promising young talent, and making sure they make their way through a challenging transition (from high school to college graduate is a big change!), and prepare them for their careers in the future.

It is also possible to gain new insights and experiences by working with students of varying backgrounds. Helping them has actually helped me to develop closer connections both within the administration of my university, as well as with colleagues at other universities.

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From the mentor point of view, I think one important practical benefits of mentoring/tutoring is that it gives you access to a pool of students (your mentees, as you put it), from which you may find future interns/grad students/post-docs. This access can be used to try and recruit them, either for yourself, or within your network (or your field in general).

Also, it gives you privileged (yet indirect) access to the students currently enrolled in the program: if you wish to circulate, e.g., a job or internship offer, it will look more attractive coming from a classmate than sent to them from a stranger.

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