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Should Professors Also be Mentors?
MentorNet's White Magic
by David Porush
When campuses consider joining our program, they often ask what our program adds to what faculty are already doing. Many professors, after all, hold office hours and spend extra time with their students mentoring them to overcome hurdles and stay the course.
Of course professors should be mentors. But the real question is: Can they help a student not only overcome academic challenges or give good life advice but prepare them for what awaits them on the other side of graduation? Can professors give students a sense of the real world of work in a corporation or government agency, where most of them are heading? Should we even expect them to?
As a professor for 22 years and several years more as an administrator, I believe the answer is unequivocal: professors may be good wisdom figures and give good coaxing and extracurricular advice, but they have no particular preparation to give their students a sense of the realities of the workplace, nor should they be expected to. Faculty members should not be expected to transmit all that stuff they don’t teach you in school: the importance of networking and how to function in the new open style of the modern workspace and how to be effective at teamwork and collaboration and the structures of power and influence and subtle nuances of identity politics that may exist and how to navigate them in the corporate workplace. (I’d add dealing with long meetings, but when it comes to meetings, professors are probably experts. I know I was.)
At MentorNet, while most of our mentor volunteers don’t have any particular preparation for how to be mentors, beyond the expectation-setting we give them before they begin their mentor-protégé match, they have experienced the real world of work. And there’s a magic that happens for your career – white magic - when you’re still on campus and your mentor gives you a vision of what awaits you on the other side of graduation.
Our mentors don’t have to be great communicators or psychologists. They only need to have the willingness to volunteer their time and to have acquired credibility by having lived their own version of the workplace.
Sometimes, I think the deepest secret to MentorNet’s success is that we give permission. We give the mentor permission to talk about all that really crucial stuff they don’t teach you in school for which there is no curriculum. We give the protégé permission to value it. And we give both the permission – and the venue - in which to appreciate each other.