If I look back, I’ve had many mentors but, generally, I didn’t think of them as such at the time. One of the most useful mentoring pieces of advice I ever received came when I was 19 and wanting to join a hiking club at my college, which was in its second year of coeducation after almost two centuries of being an all-male institution. A senior member watched me and volunteered the comment:
You are waiting to be invited and that won’t happen. If you hear about something you’d like to do [a hike, an overnight, etc.], ask if you can go along. That’s what we do.
It was great advice – both for that club and many other situations. I had been taught as a woman never to invite myself – that it was rude and it also opened you up to rejection.
Mentoring isn’t necessarily conversation. Some of the best mentoring comes when you simply go along with someone more experienced to an event or meeting. Having the opportunity to simply watch how people who are experienced behave in certain settings is very helpful. So I suggest asking if you can go along but be willing to accept “no” and not take it personally.
I have been put in formal mentoring situations where someone was assigned to mentor me and I had to meet with that person. I got something out of those situations largely because it gave me “permission” to ask questions about the organization that were “sensitive.” The experience isn’t as rich but you will get out of it what you put into it.
I am glad to see Argonne promoting mentoring and hope that the conversation stimulates staff to think about how they can help each other and openly acknowledge we all need help. Because, when you get down to it, mentoring is simply offering advice for the good of the person in a constructive fashion or modeling constructive behavior.
Finally, mentoring doesn’t have to be a senior to junior one-way street. Junior staff often have skills – especially web/computer skills – that can benefit those who are trying to pick up skills they were never taught.
Robin Lambert Graham is Deputy Associate Laboratory Director for Computing, Environment and Life Sciences. Dr. Graham is a forest ecosystem ecologist with expertise in biomass resource availability for bioenergy and climate change. She is currently overseeing Argonne’s climate change and biological research for the Department of Energy. Dr. Graham is a member of the Lab Director’s Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Council and serves on the Council’s Mentoring Subcommittee.