I didn’t realize when I began teaching (as opposed to practicing) public relations that being a professor pretty much would guarantee that I would be a mentor. All of us who teach public relations have the opportunity to connect with, mentor and begin a lifelong mentoring network with our students.
Students often don’t know what mentoring means – either being a mentor or being a “mentee.” But when they experience mentoring, they “get it” and (we professors hope) take advantage of the advice and direction it provides.
Here’s some of what I’ve learned about mentoring in (gasp) 35 years of teaching.
- Often the students who most need mentoring are not those stellar, standout students you know are on the path to professional success. Taking on an average-slightly above average student as a mentee may make more of a difference than if your mentee is already a “star.”
- It often is more effective if you don’t identify yourself as a mentor to the student(s) you’ve chosen to mentor. Just being someone who is there to provide job leads and references for graduate school enables you to mentor.
- Don’t wait for your mentee to contact you. Reach out to them with job leads, suggestions for grad school (if that’s their desire) and professional practice advice even though they may not ask for it specifically.
- Develop an in-person relationship with your mentee(s). E-mail is great. Text messages are great. (Few students today use cell phones for telephone calls so you don’t need to waste your time using that medium of communication.) But meet with them for coffee (adult alcoholic beverages are a no-no regardless of your age or the age of your mentee). There’s no substitute for that personal in-personal connection.
- Remember that many of the rewards of teaching are deferred. No matter the quality of teaching and mentoring a professor delivers, the results (almost always positive) don’t show up for a number of years. Patience is a virtue.
Judy VanSlyke Turk, PhD, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Professor Emerita, Virginia Commonwealth University. The Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations will honor Judy on Nov. 14 with the Bruce K. Berger Educator Mentor Award.