mentor (n): an experienced and trusted advisor
mentor (v): advise or train
Being mentored was never something I shied away from, whether I knew who was mentoring me or not. From a young age, and at a significant distance, the likes of Sir David Attenborough even mentored me – shaping my view of the world and guiding my interests.
Mentoring was always a term that intrigued me. I didn’t have a ‘formal’ mentor until a couple of years ago, but upon reflection I’ve always had mentors. My parents, for a start, raised me to appreciate those around me, love the natural world, and prioritise experiences over material objects. All of my teachers taught me, but there were some who mentored me more than others; not only did they pass on their knowledge in science, maths, history, and English, but they helped me find my place in the world. Their questions about my life outside of their classrooms helped me understand what I found important in life and where my strengths lay.
Recently though, I began thinking more critically about mentoring. I feel like I have enough experience under my wing to have my own mentees, whether they know it or not, and love when I can share my passions with others. One of the reasons I am drawn to science communication and outreach is down to the enthusiasm I’ve had from those I’ve had the opportunity to share with. From leading marine biology activities at summer camp, to teaching in a classroom, it has been wonderful even if just one person learns something new.
I’ve also started to acknowledge the people who are in the best positions to provide me with guidance in my first few years of post-graduate life. My academic research projects provided me with supervisors who saw me at my most stressed and my most triumphant. They are people I return to regularly for advice, which they happily give, but they have new students, their own work, and never signed up to be my lifelong mentor. They are people who don’t have an obligation to provide me with their insights, but whom I am incredibly appreciative of for their continued support.
Thankfully the Society for Women in Marine Science made looking for a dedicated mentor easier by leaps and bounds. They offer a mentoring program for female marine scientists and aim to match mentees with mentors who have the experience and interests most aligned with the goals of each mentee. My mentor is actually a man who doesn’t work in the marine sector, but it works incredibly well for me. I have to articulate my activities and feelings towards said activities more so than if he already knew exactly what I meant when I said ‘acoustic soundscape mapping research project’. However, the more conversations we’ve had the more I’ve come to see that our mentality around career paths is very similar.
Recently, I’ve been feeling that I was supposed to have a certain career path in mind, and five/ten-year plan goals outlined. I have none of that, other than some loose ideas about what I’d like to experience in my life. Thankfully, my mentor was able to explain to me what I realised my subconscious mind was thinking and reassured me that there is no right or wrong way to do it, as long as I am looking for opportunities which make me happy and allow me to live a full life.
I know I will never find a Chloe clone who is five years ahead of me, there to tell me what the best decisions to make are, but I think I prefer it that way. Learning from those more accomplished than me and those following in some of my footsteps, on all of my many paths of interest, opens my mind much more than if I had all of the ‘answers.’ Sometimes having someone outside of my life’s activities to offload to is more valuable than they’ll know. Other times, just getting reassurance that the work I’ve done is adequate is all I need.
Having a formal mentor has also encouraged me to reach out to the people I want to start a conversation with. Most of the time, I have found, that if you get in touch with someone because you think they are cool, intelligent, and have a lot to offer those they inspire, they are more than happy to talk. It’s also reminded me never to ignore those interested in what I’m doing. Sharing my lessons learnt with someone who’s interested will hopefully be a recurring experience in my life.