The idea of a mentorship involves a more experienced person teaching and providing guidance to a less experienced one in some field. It is a relationship wherein the mentor provides the mentee with the resources and knowledge that would be useful to excel and become proficient in that field. Some good qualities one might look for in a mentor include significant relevant experience, the ability to teach complex concepts in a simpler manner, and the wisdom to provide appropriate advice. In this write-up, I will provide some of my thoughts on being a mentor and the things I learned from being one for Eskwelabs.
My name is John Barrion and I worked as a mentor for Eskwelabs during Cohort 4 of their Data Science Fellowship Bootcamp. I am also an alumni from Cohort 3 of the same bootcamp and the opportunity to become a mentor was presented by the Eskwelabs team to us alumni just before Cohort 4. When I was notified about the opening, I knew then that I was interested but I was on the fence with whether I would really apply for it. What really motivated me to continue my application was the thought that, from my past experiences, identifiable moments of growth mainly come from saying yes to opportunities like this one. I personally enjoy teaching as I find it very fulfilling and that was also a big factor to why I wanted to become a mentor. There are definitely significant differences between being a fellow and a mentor but I’d say that even as a fellow, I already enjoyed teaching topics I knew previously and I take interest in the challenge of simplifying different concepts to different people.
For Cohort 4, all classes were held online and there were definitely a lot of difficulties throughout the experience. From the unreliable internet connections to the struggle of trying to communicate properly, It’s reasonable for someone to think that the classes were a nightmare to deal with in terms of logistics. I remember multiple times when mentees would ask me questions and I’d think to myself that if we were in an in-person class, teaching and explaining would be so much easier. To address these problems, I tend to be more vocal and I’m not shy to raise these issues whenever they come up as I value proactive communication very much. And as time passes by, these problems turn more into circumstances that everyone can adjust to so it does get better. When I initially got the mentorship opportunity, I was actually looking forward to the in-person classes and meeting new people but being a mentor online has its own rewards and lessons.
As a mentor, some of the more memorable experiences I’ve had are the more spontaneous ones. I enjoy the times when I can talk to other mentees on a personal level and get to know them more - their stories, motivations, goals, etc. I remember there was this one time when, after doing exercises with some mentees, we were supposed to end the Zoom Call at 9 PM but we ended up just talking about so many things about our lives until 11 PM and that was definitely a highlight for me as someone who’s stuck at home trying to get a dose of social interaction. There’s something weird about gradually getting to know new people but never getting around to meeting them in real life (I’ve never met any of my mentees and co-mentors). I think about this a lot but I always end up telling myself that it won’t make my relationships with them any less of what they would be if I already met them.
In terms of teaching, I learned a lot of what works for me and my mentees over time and there’s definitely a lot of adjusting in between. As a mentor, one of the main takeaways for me was that empathizing with your mentees can go a long way. Sometimes, it can be hard for the mentees to maintain their interest throughout the bootcamp and simply checking up on them can help me find ways in providing them the guidance that they need. When giving feedback, I proactively tell my mentees their strengths so they can be more confident about them and I provide constructive criticism on their weaknesses to let them know what they can work on and further improve. I’ve been a student before under different kinds of teachers of course and what stood out to me then about the best teachers I had was that I knew they cared about their students’ progress. If you give proper support to your mentees, they will return in terms of effort to you tenfold without you asking for it.
If you’re someone who’d like to be a mentor, my advice to you is to open yourself up to more opportunities in terms of teaching, formal or informal. Whether you’re asked to talk in front of a group for a lecture or you get asked by your friend to help you in understanding something, take that as a learning opportunity to better yourself in terms of teaching. These can also help you know if you enjoy teaching in general and if you do, completing these opportunities will get so much easier. I find a sense of fulfillment in teaching because it’s such a genuine way of helping other people. If you like the thought of making a positive impact in other people’s lives through teaching, being a mentor is certainly something you should look into.