A supporter, a guide, a translator—these were words that came to mind when participants at Mandy L. Havert’s session “Be Your Own Mentor: Take Control of Your Professional Development” were asked to reflect on the qualities they look for in a mentor.
Reflecting on her experiences, University of Notre Dame digital research and outreach librarian Mandy Havert began the session with brainstorming different parts of the mentorship relationship, asking us to “get to the ‘why’ of mentoring” and ask ourselves “What do I want to learn? What will I do with that knowledge?” and “Who can help?”
Whether within our own organization or in the wider community, she suggested that we be fearless when seeking out mentors, approaching individuals we may perceive as being out of reach. Even if they decline, they might be able to make another referral or point you in the right direction for professional development.
Finding the right fit goes beyond a person who understands your career path and can help you make connections. Noting that sometimes well-intended professional match programs are not effective, Havert cautioned that a mentor should have the same expectations regarding availability and purpose as the mentee. She recommends creating an agreement that makes explicit the time commitment, boundaries, and confidentiality of both partners. Both must feel at ease with each other and be able to discuss difficult topics: “To put the icky things out on the table, you need to have that trust.”
Documentation is also critical when tracking your progress within the mentorship. Using an example spreadsheet, participants walked through the steps of identifying a specific skill they’d like to acquire and teasing out the specific action steps required to learn it. Havert also noted the importance of reflection time and suggested keeping a journal for this purpose.
Meaningful reflection is also an important part of a final assessment. At the end of the mentor relationship, partners should evaluate its effectiveness overall. Has each partner listened and shared information in a meaningful way? Were your goals realistic, and how did you set about achieving them?
Havert also gave suggestions for professional development with less commitment, noting that even brief conversations with the right person can have a big impact. She recommends always having a plan—know what areas you’d like to work on, and be prepared to succinctly present them to a colleague. “Even a fifteen-minute conversation in a hallway at a conference can be an informal mentoring opportunity.” Perhaps you’ll meet a mentor today.