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Student Stories

Student Stories

Blogs and vlogs from students of the University of Edinburgh

The Importance of Being Mentored…

Reading Time: 3 minutes

…by Sinéad / from Ireland  / PhD Psychiatry / 4th Year

In all earnestness (see what I did there), you don’t know everything. I don’t know you, but I’m fairly certain that you don’t know everything. I certainly don’t.

What I do know is the importance of learning things from others. I have had a mentor in one shape or another from the beginning of my life to now. Be it a professional relationship or a more personal one, having a mentor allows you to learn something first hand. It’s an education that evolves, and naturally ebbs and flows beyond the confines of traditional pedagogy.

I’ve learned a lot from my mentors. How to type, how to draft an email, how to use a centrifuge, the list is a long and diverse one. For the sake of this blog post, let’s condense it down to some of the more philosophical lessons.

  1. Never underestimate the power of kindness

I’ve alluded to this before on this blog but it really cannot be stressed enough. Being kind, especially in situations where we might feel flustered or frustrated, is almost a super power. An unexpectedly kind reaction has the potential to completely shift the dynamic of a situation and can completely reverse where an interaction is headed. Now I’m not one to shy away from conflict by any means. I have no problem telling people when I’m upset and I’m not the type of person to suffer through a cold dinner when the option to send it back is available. But I have learned, and try always, to never kill the messenger. If the option exists to be kind, and let’s be frank it always does, then why not take it?

2. Everyone has something to bring to the table

After graduating from my undergrad I worked at a Children’s Mental Health Hospital as a Child Development Worker. My boss, an invaluable and incredible mentor to me to this day, taught me the importance of seeing people globally. People are so much more than you see. They are so much more than the details and facts that can be written down on paper. They are able to see humor in tragedy and have the potential for compassion in even the darkest of circumstances. I learned something from every person I had the pleasure of working with or alongside.

3. Take risks.

Some risks, like emailing a researcher whose work you admire and asking if they’d be willing to meet, are small. Some risks, like moving alone to Edinburgh for grad school, are slightly bigger. Both I’ve done. Both I’ve loved. Mentors are great for those “should I shouldn’t I” situations, where all you need is a small word of encouragement before jumping off the cliff. I think a good mentor offers that word of encouragement. And perhaps a great mentor is the one who pushes you off themselves.

4. Read everything.

Read the fine print. Read the emails carefully. Proof read absolutely everything. Know your rights-be that in academic institutions or when buying car rental insurance.

5. You will inevitably get things wrong

I don’t take failure well. It’s truly not something I expect to ever be good at. That being said, I’m trying to learn how to down play my perceived failures. Would it be a really big deal to mess up my viva? Yes. Is it a big deal if I accidentally send my supervisor an email with a small typo? No. Probably not worth losing sleep over. Considering the line is “You’re only human” it follows that we, as a species, tend to make a substantial amount of mistakes. I think it’s important to remember that that’s a species wide phenomenon and not just centered you. Ruminating tends to be a complete waste of time.

6. Get good at listening

But really listening. My very dear friend and very important mentor happens to be an exceptionally accomplished woman. Order of Canada, name sake of an elementary school, the CV is awash with almost unbelievable accomplishments. I can guarantee that she is often the most interesting person in the room. I can also guarantee that she would wholeheartedly disagree with me. She is the kind of person that will listen to you with every molecule of her being. She listens with kindness and intent and it makes the speaker feel valued. I think it’s a rare and wonderful attribute that I try my best to do at every opportunity.

7. Hug till it hurts

I have a lot of older friends. By older I’m talking 70–100 years old. Something I’ve noticed with all of them is how hard they hug. Despite their advanced age, they hug so hard it hurts my ribs. At the risk of sounding completely trite, I think there’s something really wonderful in that. While there’s the distinct possibility that my OAP friends are significantly stronger than I am, I also think that maybe they just know what’s up. If you’re going to hug…then make it a great hug. If you’re going to work…then work your ass off. What’s the point in doing something unless you’re actually going to do it right? You know. Like the ultimate mentor said:



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