Today’s post comes from Joyla Furlano. Joyla is a 3rd year PhD Candidate in Neuroscience at Western University (London, Ontario). She is also the current Chapter Representative of the OC-SNP National Executive.
Mentorship occurs when a more experienced or knowledgeable person provides advice, support, or guidance to a less experienced or knowledgeable person1. It can involve many different scenarios, occurs in various capacities, and is a large part of human existence. In fact, whether we realize it or not, mentorship occurs in our everyday lives, such as when we ask a supervisor how to operate equipment, seek career counselling support at a career centre, or provide advice to a friend facing a personal crisis.
I recently caught up with Dr. Shauna Burke, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Western University and current member of the Obesity Canada Mentorship Matching Program, to discuss all things-mentorship. Dr. Burke spoke about her many experiences with mentorship, having received academic and non-academic mentoring as a previous graduate student in Kinesiology at Western University. She discussed the invaluable knowledge she gained from both formal (supervisors) and informal (colleagues) mentors throughout her education, and how “guidance, encouragement, networking opportunities, and support” are important aspects of mentorship.
As a current invited mentor for Obesity Canada, Dr. Burke highlighted the qualities she believes make a great mentor, including “communication skills, respect, empathy, maintaining an openness to new ideas, and providing feedback and guidance in a supportive and constructive manner.” What I appreciate most about Dr. Burke’s insight into mentorship is her emphasis on mentorship being multifaceted, and how even in academic-focussed mentoring, it is important to encourage successful work-life balance. This proved to be particularly useful in her own mentoring, she said, as it has helped her “balance academic demands and responsibilities while maintaining (as much as possible!) a quality of life both within and outside of academia.”
While there are many obvious benefits to mentorship, some of which I have already touched on (i.e., gained knowledge and information, networking), there are many others that are often less obvious. These include, but are not limited to, learning how to improve yourself from the perspective of others, gaining access to resources you may not get elsewhere, feeling a sense of motivation and accountability, receiving help to create boundaries that you may not be able to set yourself, and brainstorming ideas with an impartial party. Of course, mentorship is also beneficial for mentors as well, as it can provide them with the opportunity to stay connected to others, share their stories and knowledge, and learn new ideas. To Dr. Burke, reciprocity within mentorship is something that makes mentorship such an amazing experience in the first place.
There are many ways you can participate in mentorship yourself, one of which is through the Obesity Canada’s Mentorship Matching Program (https://obesitycanada.ca/snp/con-snp-mentorship-program/). This program, launched in 2017, aims to promote networking and career development for mentees who are interested in careers in obesity-related areas, both within and beyond academia. The program is open to anyone, students or non-students, and is ongoing throughout the year. There are also several other organizations (and universities) that provide their own form of mentorship programs, so I do encourage all of you readers to take the time to do some research and find something that works for you! To me, the little bit of effort is totally worth it, as mentorship is truly one of those hidden gems in life.
*A very special thanks to Dr. Shauna Burke for her invaluable contributions to this article.