InsightOut: Mentorship Reimagined

Simran Dhir is a third-year international student specializing in Pharmacology and Biomedical Toxicology. She is a mentor of St. Mike’s mentorship, Academic Success, and a Co-coordinator for PAIR Mentorship, a program focused on providing students with peer-mediated mental health support.


Mentorship Reimagined

Mural of two bright, multicoloured hands interlocking

I think it’s a little crazy how different this article would be if I’d had to write it a year ago. I always held the view that mentorship doesn’t really change all that much with time. You go through an experience, you share your story and the wisdom gained, help people use the resources you regret not using, and assist them in getting through something you struggled with. You reassure your peers that things will work out in the end, and that there are ways to make the journey less bumpy. Your knowledge definitely grows with you, which may lead you to give better advice and resources but the core principle of supporting and exchanging ideas with one another doesn’t change.

But what happens when you need to mentor someone and help them go through something that you have no experience in? Surely you can give them resources but how do you talk to a student on a nocturnal schedule and give them ways to stay motivated when you yourself can barely get out of bed for an online lecture? Most of us have never had to navigate online learning for such a prolonged period before, requiring the kind of self-discipline needed in today’s environment. A lot of us have little to no experience managing college extracurriculars and social interaction completely online. A few months ago, it was almost too easy to tell a mentee to join one of the many clubs here at U of T in order to find their community and combat feelings of loneliness but how do you do that now when someone is struggling with the immense workload that comes with school and the inherent separation that comes with the lack of a physical meeting ground?

What I am trying to get at by my long-winded introduction is that the environment this year is new for everyone. Mentorship now, at least to me, is more of a mutual learning process where everyone is really just sharing things that they have tried and had success with. It is about giving authentic, real and raw advice and truly acknowledging every accomplishment with a pat on the back, be it attending every class for the week or squeezing 15 minutes of a workout into your day. Now more than ever, mentors are realizing they do not have all the answers and will have to tread this uncharted path alongside their mentees.

Another integral part of mentorship this year is connection. Most mentorship programs speak about a semi-formal relationship with boundaries where one is not exactly a friend but also not a superior. Now, students are joining these programs to make a friend. This is the extracurricular of choice for many students these days hoping to find community online. The SMC mentorship program, led by two amazing people, Nicolas and Maya, is working on revamping expectations and asking mentees what they are truly looking for. They are including more social events, inclusive timings, and accessible outreach to ensure students have access to everything they need.

From what I can gather, mentees this year can be divided into two broad groups. Members of the first group are looking for assistance streamlining resources available to them; it can be very confusing for a first-year student to navigate how university works, especially when removed from the physical campus itself. The resources, though plenty, are scattered; having someone there to clarify even the smallest of details goes a long way. The other group includes students who just want to connect with someone at the university. Mentorship programs aren’t geared just towards academics and logistics anymore, evidenced by programs such as PAIR Mentorship that revolve around emotional well-being. As mentors, we are trained, now more than ever, to engage in candid discussion about mental health, family matters, and personal welfare. While we are taught to acknowledge our limitations, we are still given regular updates on new mental health resources to share with our mentees.

Joining the Academic Success Team as a peer mentor has been a very rewarding and learning-filled experience for me. It involves helping students manage their time, courses, and activities, and showing them how everything is really trial and error, even for those of us who are mentors. One of the most valuable lessons I have learned has been how mentors must be mindful about the process of sharing resources. While imperative, it is not enough to know the “right” solutions or be aware of every resource around if the list is overwhelmingly large and cannot be applied effectively. I have found that focusing on providing mentees with the top three resources at a time that best fit the situation at hand is much more effective than dumping everything all at once; one can always schedule follow-up appointments to discuss and share further if the initial strategies don’t pan out. Above all, during my appointments I strive to make the student feel as comfortable, reassured, and heard as possible. I share personal anecdotes to let them know that everyone is weathering the same storm right now. It becomes very easy for students to doubt themselves with everything going on but I feel that the mere action of someone identifying a problem and asking for support is a huge, commendable step. We are all re-learning how to study and learn due to the big change in our environment and by keeping an open mind, we can learn a lot from one another.

I believe mentors are forming much deeper connections with their mentees this year, especially since they are being virtually invited into each other’s homes. It has been a challenging year but mentorship is one of the things that reminds me of how we are stronger together and how important it is to motivate and encourage one another as we step forward.

If you want to know more about any of the things I spoke about, here are some resources. Please feel free to contact me at simran.dhir@mail.utoronto.ca if you have any questions or just want to chat about how your eyes are hurting after all those Zoom meetings or how happy you are that Tim Hortons is staying open during the Toronto lockdown 🙂

St Mike’s Mentorship: https://www.facebook.com/st.mikesmentorship/

PAIR Mentorship: https://www.facebook.com/pair.uoft/?view_public_for=1077331425618389

Academic Success Peer Mentorship: https://studentlife.utoronto.ca/service/academic-mentor-appointments/

Nicole LeBlanc, Wellness Counsellor at St. Mikes: nicolem.leblanc@utoronto.ca


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