Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Why Aren't You a Mentor?

Who me?  Yes, you, that experienced professional, emerging professional, or even grad student. You!

As regular blog readers now, every year I put out a call for mentees, and each year work with one or two of you. That call will be coming next week, but I wanted to push more of you to consider becoming a mentor yourself.  I've heard from many people that they would like mentors, but don't know how to find them and that the need for mentors outstrips the supply.

I emailed all my mentees (hi, you guys!) and asked some questions about my own program. I was struck by how many of them said some version of the same thing: "What struck a chord with me is this idea of former mentees paying it forward and magnifying our efforts."  Said another,

I would love to be a mentor someday but when I was doing it with you I would not have had the time to do it in exchange. But, for example, you could write up a little guide on your blog about mentoring museum professionals that would encourage and inspire others do to it.

So here goes: my five tips for being a good mentor, interspersed with some quotes from my mentees.

1.  Be honest.  Be honest about the time you spend, and more importantly, be honest with the mentee. You are not their boss, their significant other, or even a work colleague. They need you to be honest. I have found that sometimes I needed to be what felt like brutally frank about where people are in the field and where they might head.

I think for me, the mentoring process came in phases. Our conversations built my confidence and I began to change my thinking. After I believed in my abilities I needed to create a plan to succeed, but I soon realized that I had limited resources and I needed to create a network.

2.  Don't be afraid of what you don't know.  Being a mentor is not being Wikipedia. Sometimes a question would send me looking for more information and ideas, and along the way, I learned as well.

This is also why I enjoyed the informal nature of the mentorship; each mentee had the opportunity to shape the conversations, and while I did appreciate the tangible task of writing the blog posts, I did also welcome the openness regarding how many posts we could write, and allowing the topics to emerge out of our conversations.

3.  Be generous.  You need to commit time, but I found the generosity that might be most important is generosity about your own experiences, including those failures along the way.

I have valued the ability to speak freely about what has driven my interest in museum research and what has stood out to me in today's exhibition content. On the flip side, I have enjoyed learning about what you do (as well as what that entails on a practical note) and the many different museum audiences that we can get at with our work (of particular interest being the U.S. v. Europe case study).
4.  Be committed.  I spend one hour a month Skyping with each mentee.  It's up to the mentees to chose the topic, and we try and schedule the next month as we finish.

For me it was a real connection and we took the time to really meet and talk. It had the value of obliging me to pause, discuss and reflex on my work, aspiration and challenges as a professional but in an other dimension then my day to day work.

5.  Be a lifelong learner.  

I have had the experience previously of moving from mentee and mentor; it is a powerful experience to be empowered to build on what you have been taught and to share your experiences.

I think it's particularly important as we work to make museums more diverse, inclusive spaces, that we look to mentor all kinds of people.  If you're in graduate school, can you mentor a high school or undergraduate student, to introduce them to the work of museums?  If you're an emerging professional who went to graduate school, consider looking for a mentee who is entering the field from another direction?

But, I can hear you thinking, where am I going to find a mentee?  Aren't they supposed to find me? I know some people seek out mentors, and several of my mentees have sought out next-step mentors, based on their experiences with me.  You can make it known that you're committed to the future of the field.  Talk to colleagues at other organizations and ask them to suggest potential mentees.  Go to Drinking About Museums in your city, meet people, and be open. Put a post on your LinkedIn profile.  If you appear open and enthusiastic, people will find you. Your mentee might be someone older than you;  or someone younger.  It honestly doesn't matter.  What does matter is that you pay it forward in some way, and that together, we make our field a meaningful place for everyone.  My little experiment in mentorship over the last four years has repaid me in more ways than I can count.

What questions do you have about being a mentor?

And stay tuned, for this year's mentor announcement.


Claudia at Museum Partners Consulting, LLC said...

Just a reminder that EdCom will have another round of mentoring for museum education professionals... and we had fewer mentors than mentees last round, so we could use volunteers. Keep an eye on social media for announcements of the next application period.

Linda Norris said...

Claudia, Megan Wood and I talked about EdCom's project, and whether it might be useful to have a google hangout or some such, about being a mentor... so glad EdCom has taken it on!