Some Reflections on Cross-level Peer Mentoring

Posted on June 30, 2011

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Cross-level Peer Mentoring

Author:  Sanjay Goel, http://in.linkedin.com/in/sgoel

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Mentoring has been defined as a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development; mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protégé) [1].

Organizations use it for widening of skills base and competencies in line with their strategic goals, and find it a cost effective form of personal development. It also improves teamwork and cooperation in organizations. Mentees get benefitted by mentor’s support in many ways: analysis and reflection, problem solving, self-confidence and ability to take risks, acceptance of criticism, as well as broadened horizons and maturity.

Over the last few years, I have been documenting the experiences and views of professionals as well as students about mentoring.  Excerpts of few responses of some software professionals are given below.

  1. …it was the best two years of my time at IBM. Every day I went to work and came home with a smile on my face …
  2. I learned how valuable diversity was to the success …
  3. we get multiple perceptions…
  4. Are you able to explain which is the best idea? and which is not? Can you explain concepts that initially are beyond the other person? These are crucial skills and mentoring helps to develop and sharpen them.
  5. …keep on learning by inventing new ideas… .
  6. I learnt more about myself, decision making process, individual differences, and of course communication skills…
  7. my learning grows exponentially by coaching or guiding someone
  8. great sense of satisfaction … fresh perspective to your own outlook … learn how to manage interactions and figure out how to deal with people
  9. “Help” is a fundamental button for homo-sapiens …
  10. I found that I was required to look within myself and develop patience and empathy…
  11. it forces us to think about things critically so that we can explain it to someone else. I have found personally that mentoring forces me to grow, and usually benefits me more intellectually than the recipient.

At JIIT, since 2005, we have been engaging senior student to mentor the laboratory work and projects of junior students. So far more than 1,000 senior students have contributed to the learning of their juniors. Off course some have taken the task much more enthusiastically as comapared to many others.    Here are the excerpts of the benefits as reported by some  alumni and final year students who had mentored (or were mentoring)  the labs/project of their  juniors in a faculty guided structured format  at JIIT during 2005-2011.

  1. Questions thrown up by the mentee sometimes made me look deeper for some concepts to which I had never paid much attention earlier …/… one is able to find out gaps in knowledge and determine understanding of the subject …/I was able to better revise my subjects …/… It gave me the chance to continuously improve myself …/ Things which I thought I understood were actually understood while I was making someone else understand.…It helps the mentor grow in almost every dimension …subject matter is strengthened and he gains clarity …one gets to hear his own thoughts/good revision of all fundamentals and some good genuine doubts solutions/ learning some new technologies/ keeps me update/I am strengthening my concepts of programming/ helpful to me for some higher examinations/deeper understanding/ boosts my confidence and helps me in the process of self-learning.
  2. … I had to explain them in a simple manner…/communicate effectively, use and upgrade his own skills/… improved my ability to present the same topic from different angles …/I also noticed a change in the way I started explaining things to other people …/ Having to explain one’s thinking to someone else seems to help get it straight in one’s own mind …/ I was able to communicate much better to different people and could express my ideas in a more effective manner/ Properly defining problem/Patience and listening/ communication skill in explaining ourselves to others/ I am much more expressive now and can explain and present things better/… think more and think in line with the people working with me and in my surroundings/ be more receptive to the problems of others.
  3. … best thing I learnt was to look at the other side of the coin …/…ability to move from macro to micro details and vice versa, patience and openness to critically analyze alternative approaches…/… I realized that every problem could be solved through different techniques … Mentoring helps thinking out of the box … the joy you get when they come out with flying colors is incomparable/ … It’s one of the best ways to discover ourselves and our creativity/… my confidence increased as I matured with classes, my tolerance increased …  my ability to think out of the box and also trying to think more than students and also commenting on their performance increased my critical analysis ability…/how to approach towards a given problem/ … into every problems in different ways and helps us to find various solutions/It helps me to understand how a problem is perceived differently by different people and hence helps me to understand the common error which a coder can do and in future I’ll try to remove those technical snags which usually don’t come to mind.
  4. Makes you feel like a bigger person. Makes you believe in yourself more when others believe in you … /… instilled a sense of an extra added responsibility…/ Mentoring provide inner satisfaction. … makes you a better person …you have to critically analyze the drawbacks and tradeoffs and justify your advisee, which makes things clearer to you …you learn how to read and understand someone else’s code … more responsible, more disciplined… It motivates you to become better at your own work /You tend to bring out the best in you/ It helped me shape my personality and enhanced my leadership and interpersonal skills. … my tolerance and patience had surely increased …/Self-confidence level increased …got to know varied and completely out of the box concepts … patience level increased. I had to give a logical explanation as to why this idea will/will not work… understood that teaching is not an easy job…/… deal with my subordinates/ built my leadership quality a lot/ quality of working as a team leader and resolving the problems faced by the people/inculcating qualities of a project manager/ Improved leadership skills, multiple perspectives/ I am gaining on mentoring skills and ways to communicate a problem to different people. …it is helping me understand the mind of different coders/ understand the responsibilities and duties of being a supervisor/ give my hundred percent knowledge and also act like a team leader/ I can now understand the problems which a new comer faces/ Building rapport with different kinds of students, understanding others; code, taking responsibility.
  5. The decision making and project management skills that got polished during the mentoring really helped me in long term/…working with unknown person or a team/Working in such large team and coordinating with multiple project …
  6. software quality and testing concepts along with designing/ I have clarified my concepts on requirement engineering which has helped me in my final year project report.
  7. … unique addition to my ability/ Broadened our mental skills.
  8. Enhancing my teaching skills/ I have found a teacher inside me/ I want to become a lecturer so it’s helping me understand the student mind/ would definitely aid me in applying for teaching assistantship.

I invite the larger professional community to post comments and share their own experiences either as mentee or as mentor.  While  sharing your experiences as mentees, you may also like to use this opportunity to publicly acknowledge your mentor(s) for contributing to your intellectual and professional growth.

References:

1.  B. Bozeman and M.K. Feeney, Toward a useful theory of mentoring: A conceptual analysis and critique. Administrative and Society 39 (6),  pp 719–739, October 2007

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