In 2015, UA-WISE (University of Alberta – Women in Science and Engineering) and WISER (Women in Science, Engineering and Research) launched a joint mentorship program. 21 trios were created, composed of an undergrad student, a grad student or early career professional, and an experienced professional. The trio gave an opportunity for the undergrad to benefit from two mentors and the grad student to mentor the undergrad under the supervision of the experienced professional and benefit from mentorship. An added feature, as pointed out by a program participant is that “the discussion is richer with three people involved instead of two”. During the eight month program, the trios met for an hour each month or two hours every other month.
Three events were held throughout the year. After each event, an evaluation survey was sent out. Through the survey, challenges for the trios, solutions to common issues and progression through the program could be determined. Survey results and tips were sent in three newsletters. The key specification of the program was this fact that it was a dynamic program so the date and subject of the final event was based on the survey results.
Trios were matched based on participants answers regarding area of specialty, educational background, years of experience, work environment (academia, industry, or government), and areas or skills to develop (professional conduct, negotiation skills, life-work balance, soft skills, technical skills, self confidence). There was a huge demand for the program with 190 applicants: 85 graduate students (41 PhD students and 44 Masters students), 39 early career professionals, and 38 undergraduate students. Handbooks for mentors and mentees were developed specifically for this program.
On the final survey, 96% of respondents said they would recommend the program to friends or colleagues. The same percentage would participate in the program in the future. The panel discussion at the second event was the most useful event of the three. About 80% of participants found the information contained in the newsletter helpful.
The mentorship program could not have been possible without the generous sponsorship provided by Shell Canada.
A summary of the events is presented below.
Special thanks to volunteers in the mentorship program team:
Program lead and initiator: Sahar Banisoltan
Mentorship Program Committee members: Kristen Kavich, Madeleine Jensen-Fontaine, Preeti Kuttikat, Shoma Sinha
Handbook developers: Ashley Newbigging, Qian Fu, Shoma Sinha
Newsletter developer: Qian Fu
Volunteers: Ali Chou, Alireza Habibzade, Ayodeji Aderibigbe, Ebele Anekwe, Madeleine Jensen-Fontaine, Michelle Ting, Nicole Malenczak, Nora Nahornick, Penolopie David, Rachel Thomas, Sophia Lu, Sonya Soh, Shagufta Tasneem, Sonbol Yazdanbakhsh, Yi Han Yu, Yunkun Wu
First Event-Kick off and Expectations
The Mentorship program started off with a successful kickoff event on September 25, 2015. It was really nice to see everyone come out and meet with their groups. We decided what should be brought to a desert island. The 3D printer was one of the more useful items. Our incredible speaker Dr. Pamela Young who has a PhD in education gave us tons of advice! One pearl from the talk was the idea that the mentor in the relationship can learn from the mentee. This makes the mentorship relationship more sustainable over the long run, as both parties see a benefit from the time spent together! She helped trios with their goal sheets and their first meeting schedule.
Second Event-Panel Discussion
On the evening of Thursday, January 28th, members of the UA-WISE/WISER’s Mentorship Program and volunteers from UA-WISE and WISER met over dinner to share experience and listen to insights from a panelist of experienced women in mentoring. The panel was about “Benefits and Challenges in a Mentorship Relationship”. The panel was diverse featuring Lisa Ross-Rodriguez, PhD, Director at the Government of Alberta, Gail Powley, PEng, from an industry firm, Naomi Krogman, PhD, Associate Professor at the University of Alberta and winner of Killam award on mentoring, Marianna Kulka, PhD, government institution researcher. The event kicked off with our MCs giving a short introduction and updates from both UA-WISE and WISER, and our panel moderators introducing the panelists with their biographies. Our panel moderators initiated a Q&A by asking a few questions, followed by questions from the audience. Our panelists discussed the differences between formal and informal mentoring, the challenges of mentoring and being a mentee, and shared their own memorable experience on the topic.
One highlight of the event was the discussion with diverse perspectives brought up by the panelists. For example, when the panelists were asked which were the easiest and hardest parts of a mentoring relationship, one panelist responded that listening was the easiest for her whereas another panelist challenged that listening could also be the most difficult. The second panelist went on to explain that active listening takes much more effort than passive listening. To support the idea, a third panelist gave a personal story where she actively listened to one of her colleagues – not only understanding the meaning of her colleague’s words, but also being aware of how the words were said. Gradually, she discovered that the colleague was afflicted with a mental illness and therefore could offer her support.
Other suggestions that the panelists gave at the event included:
• mentors would benefit if they regularly received feedback from their mentees to improve on their mentoring styles and methods;
• mentoring in academia may be more beneficial if the style of mentoring was tailored to the learning style of the mentee.
- when mentors give feedback, more details may be expected. For example, if a supervisor does not like a manuscript their graduate student has prepared, the feedback given may be more effective and appreciated if it includes advice on how to improve.
Third Event- Workshop
We were delighted to have Dr. Margaret-Ann Armour speak at the final event on April 27, 2016. She shared some of her experiences with her mentors and what she learned by being a mentor. “Managing the Unmanageable – The Art of Difficult Workplace” workshop was presented by Russell Stratton. He helped the trios to learn more about identifying and dealing with difficult people.
What Dr. Armour learned as a mentor
– to be sensitive to cultural differences
– to allow for diverse needs
– to carefully interpret what is being told
– to be prepared to take a risk
“ I enjoy the experience as each member is in a different place in their career and has different experiences to share. I find it educating and enjoyable.”
“I love it. I think we have a friendly and non-judgmental atmosphere.”
“I think having a trio works well especially as I have no knowledge of the specific discipline of the mentees – the early career professional is a very useful resource for the student”
“The program was extremely beneficial, I always felt comfortable at the meetings and I learned a lot about the workplace and got lots of advice about school.”