The influential role of mentoring in higher education

Throughout different stages of our lives and careers we establish relationships with people that can become influential in our development as professionals but also in our growth and maturity as human beings. These kind of people that have such impact in our formation are often called mentors. The definition and characteristics that make someone “qualified” to perform the role of a mentor depends on the categories you have for them. Independently of your criteria, mentors will have a certain impact in your development.

Mentors serve as guiders and supporters. They are people we trust and often look up to. During the different years that I have been part of higher education I have had the privilege to meet a lot of people that have guided me to where I am today. My mentors are not only conformed of professors and advisors, but colleagues, classmates and fellow graduate students as well as early career scientists. My active involvement and engagement in research started during my freshman year of college. It has been through research that I have been  able to network and meet a lot of people who I have collaborated and directly work with.  However, not everyone that  I have worked with has served as a mentor to me. Although, I do recognize that even though they did not play the role of a mentor they were important in my formation.

Being mentored represents an opportunity to learn from someone else’s expertise, discuss different ideas, get advice on career paths and so much more. A mentor is not someone that will tell you everything you have to do, but someone that will provide some sense of direction. At the end the decision is still yours and you should feel ownership of what you want for your career and your professional and personal development.

Within higher education it is imperative that we have a broad community of mentors that represent different fields, perspectives, backgrounds and experiences. Diverse mentorship efforts or programs allow to promote equity and inclusion within the institution but also to hire and retain a more diverse professoriate, students and staff. During my different experiences with mentorship I have found that I feel more inspired and reassured that I am capable of pursuing a career in Academia because I have been mentored by people that look like me and with who I share similar backgrounds and interests. My decision to pursue a PhD was highly influenced by the different relationships I developed during my undergraduate and master’s. My understanding  and recognition of the lack of representation for minorities in my field also served as a motivation to position myself in a place where I can have an active mentoring role to continue breaking the barriers to make higher education a place that is accessible to a broader community.

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