Can you hear me? I can hear you!
Updated: Jul 23, 2022
A few days ago, I caught myself thinking about the concept of
mentorship and mentors in particular. To be honest I hated the word
“mentor” for the longest time, I probably still do even. In French
mentor resembles “menteur” which means liar. Yikes.
The Oxford dictionary says:
“An experienced person who advises and helps somebody with less
experience over a period of time”.
This too is not terribly inviting. For a lack of better word, let me
employ it for now.
On my way back from work, I was asking myself what’s the common
denominator between the people who acted or still act as my mentors.
- Are they people that I consider very smart? Yes.
- Are they people whom I admire to some extent? Yes.
- Are they people who achieved great things? Yes.
It occurred to me though that these are the reasons why I might be
drawn to them, but not why were/are my mentors.
I parked the car, stopped the music and when it was quiet it hit me.
What all these people do is that they all listen well.
It might seem counter intuitive given the definition of the Oxford
dictionary that this is the best quality I could find in a mentor, but
please bear with me for another moment.
What’s the best way to solve or address a problem? One has to define
well the contours of the problem, understand what are we talking
about? What does it involve? How can it evolve? What are the limiting
factors or beliefs etc. To gather this information, to help the person
in front of you in the best possible way, the first thing one has to
do is to listen well.
Listening well means, really giving a chance to the person in front of
you to express what’s on their mind. I am guessing an experienced
person knows what the less experienced one is going with their thought
process, statistically they have seen this before. Especially when it
comes to issues related with work, we are not that original (I am
struggling to write my PhD, this colleague is underminding me, you
name it ). Yet, if the mentor lets the person first in front of them
really say everything that they have on their chest. Then and only
then, they can be receptive to advice, suggestions, input and so on.
Today I am grateful to all of them. I am grateful to the ones that
took interest in me when I felt like a lousy postdoc, I am grateful to
the ones that asked me if I had considered some responsibility when I
had auto-censored myself. I am grateful to the ones that keep piquing
my curiosity. I am grateful to the ones who help me walk through
misogyny by treating me with the respect that I deserve and offer me
the same advice they would offer a male colleague, and yes you guess
right, some of these mentors are men and I am grateful for their help.
Finally, a particular note goes to Jacques Lefrançois, who offered a
chat during the third year of my PhD when I was a mess and had the
intelligence to prepare a box of handkerchiefs for the discussion.
Not only had he listened well to what I had to say, but he had
anticipated that a box of handkerchiefs was needed and that is Next to
Leading Order mentorship.