Mentoring – Questions and Answers
Mentoring is one of those subjects I can talk about till the cows come home (the other such subjects are the Julia programming language, Data Science, and Cybersecurity). What makes it different, however, is that it's something that appeals to all sorts of professionals, not just data science and cybersecurity ones. In this article, I'll attempt to illustrate that through a series of questions and answers, for easier navigation and hopefully better understanding.
So, first of all, what is mentoring? In a nutshell, it's the formal manifestation of the most natural relationship in our species, that of passing on knowledge. This knowledge transfer is usually done from parents to children (and vice versa when it comes to the latest apps and gadgets!), from the elders to the younger individuals, and among peers with different levels of growth in a particular field. It's the most natural thing in the world to share one's knowledge and experiences with other people, often just for the sake of it. In the business world, where time is valued differently, this relationship usually takes the form of a professional relationship where money is involved, while there is a certain structure about it (e.g., regular meetings, a preassigned means of communication, etc.)
Well, we all have blind spots and gaps in our knowledge, plus we need to learn from others (what I refer to as dynamic learning) since solitary learning strategies are sometimes inadequate. Also, mentoring is often a powerful supplement to one's established learning strategies, enabling that person to deal with practical issues and questions that often arise from the new material. It's no coincidence that anyone in academia pursuing a challenging project, such as a dissertation, is often required to have a mentor of sorts to supervise his/her work. In some cases, such as a multi-disciplinary research project, two mentors are assigned to the learner. That was my experience during my Ph.D. at the University of London.
Anyone intending to learn something or hone their skills is a candidate for a mentee/protege. As for mentors, anyone you can learn from systematically and helpfully qualifies for that role. Of course, there is also the matter of availability, since many people are quite busy these days, so that's a requirement too. Practically, you cannot be a mentee or a mentor if your schedule is jam-packed. It takes time to invest for such a relationship to have a chance, just like anything worthwhile in our lives.
Mentoring usually makes use of a rhythm in the series of meetings involved. It doesn't have to be frequent, but having a rhythm is useful nevertheless. You can use the mentoring meetings to discuss
1. new topics the learner is interested in and often tackling individually,
2. problems the learner is facing, such as those related to the new material as well as its applications,
3. specific applications of the new material to understand how it applies in practice,
4. new ideas that extend the learning material and may be the product of the learner’s creativity,
5. anything else that the learner deems necessary or useful such as career-related matters
As with any product or service out there, there is a price tag involved (be very careful when someone is offering mentoring or access to "mentors" for free, as this is likely to be a scam). In general, the more you value the mentoring process, the more you're willing to pay for it. Sometimes, you can even work out an exchange kind of deal, where you offer a product or service for the mentoring you receive. More often than not, however, there is money involved, while there is also an intermediary to handle the transactions and take care of the logistics of the process.
Well, there is no better time than now, or at least, as soon as you can. Waiting for the perfect mentor or for a time when you have enough time to focus on mentoring is futile. You can always adjust your mentoring rhythm to the circumstances of your life if needed. I've had to change the weekly meetings I have with my mentees a few times because they were either dealing with a personal situation or a work-related matter.
Anywhere with a good internet connection (even a mobile internet connection) or, ideally, within proximity of the mentor. I remember having been paired with a mentor during my time in Microsoft and I've mentored people in person through the "Get Online" program in Greece, back in the day when the internet was a new thing and local business people were eager to utilize it for their businesses. However, most of the mentoring these days take place over a VoIP system, such as Zoom, or even over the phone. Generally, a VoIP system is preferable since it allows you to share your screen with the mentor and enable them to understand the problem better, facilitating a potential resolution.
All this sounds nice and dandy, but so what? The bottom line of all this is that through mentoring, you get to improve your skills (or develop new ones if you are a newcomer in a field), refine your mindset, and even upgrade your life status over time. Many people take on mentoring to shift careers or get a better job in their line of work, while others do it to become better at their current job. Every person is unique, and mentoring addresses that uniqueness, building on it.
Shameless self-promotion part
If you have been following my work or my blog, you're probably already aware of the fact that I'm involved in mentoring for several years. Lately, I've decided to take it to the next level and start mentoring people on other platforms too as well as one-on-one (no intermediary platform). Although I usually deal with the main currencies of the world (e.g., USD, British pounds, and Euros), I'm also open to cryptocurrencies too. You can learn more about my mentoring endeavors on the corresponding page of this blog. Cheers!
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Zacharias Voulgaris, PhD
Passionate data scientist with a foxy approach to technology, particularly related to A.I.