One thing I’ve noticed lately is that the balance between asking for advice and giving it has started tipping toward the latter. In other words, I’m at a point in my life where I’m starting to play the role of mentor more than mentee, and that carries a lot of responsibility. As a result, I thought I’d put together an article about my mentoring experience while asking the question: when did I become a mentor?
Table of Contents
The Case for Mentorship
If you’ve followed my blog at all, then you know that my life can be hectic and confusing. For instance, I recently failed my qualifying exam, and I constantly contemplate switching careers. In fact, I’ve already abandoned engineering, and I’m not really sure I’m where I want to be yet.
To make matters worse, I find that almost every process in life is deliberately opaque. For example:
- Looking for a job
- Applying to college
- Taking an exam
- Doing research
- Paying taxes
Whatever it may be, everyday tasks seem to shrouded in mystery. If they weren’t, why are there literally thousands of companies profiting off of them? Think about it! I can name probably a dozen companies off the top of my head that profit off of deliberately complex processes:
- Magoosh (GRE practice)
- LinkedIn (Job networking)
- Indeed (Job search)
- US News (College rankings)
- Intuit (Tax help)
In all this chaos, you’d think that someone would have come along and made some of these processes a bit more transparent—or at the very least made these processes easier. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case.
Over time, I’ve realized that life is all about blindly navigating these complex processes. After all, no one helps you figure these things out. You’re just expected to learn the hard way, and that’s really a shame.
Personally, I find myself constantly learning things the hard way. For instance, I recently had to relearn how to study after failing multiple exams in my first semester. In addition, I’m also learning how to run a website without any help. That’s why I’ve decided to start seeking out some mentorship.
Becoming a Mentee
As you can imagine, I bring all this up because adults have no idea what we’re doing. We’re all just sort of stumbling around, bumping into things, and hoping to get where we want to go. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t getting there, and it sucks.
That’s why it’s nice to have support from someone (aka a mentor) who has been through what we’re going through. That way, we have someone who can help us avoid some of the common pitfalls.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been all that lucky over the past couple years. That’s why I decided to spend the last couple months building up my support network. For instance, I now have a handful of professors I can lean on for help. In addition, I’ve met a ton of peers that can help me moving forward.
For once, my future as a PhD student seems far less uncertain. Now, I have some definitive goals with a support network that can help me get there. Finally, I am getting some help, and it feels great.
Becoming a Mentor
Despite all this confusion in my own life, somehow I’ve also become a mentor for several people, and it feels weird. After all, I feel like I have a major case of impostor syndrome. How could anyone possibly look up to me? I have no idea what I’m doing.
That said, I still have a lot of students coming to me for support, so I’ve been trying to do my best to help them out. In fact, just this week, I’ve had 4 people ask me for help. Naturally, I want to take some time to share their stories.
At The Ohio State University, students have to complete pre-major requirements before they can actually get into the major. Unfortunately, I currently teach the last class that students have to take to get into the Computer Science and Engineering major. As a result, I get a ton of students asking for help, so they don’t fail.
One of my students in particular is a transfer student, and they’re finding the class pretty tough. As a result, I’ve been spending a lot of time with them outside of class to provide some form of support.
Beyond assisting with assignments, I’ve also had to provide them with supplemental work to further cement some of the concepts. In addition, I’ve been trying really hard to prove to them that everything will be okay. Of course, I can’t guarantee that, but I’m trying my best to ensure it’s true.
If you had told me I would be doing something like this in the past, I wouldn’t have believed you. After all, who would be leaning on me for this kind of help? Yet, here we are.
Surprisingly, my students aren’t the only ones asking me for help. In fact, one of my graduate student peers recently asked me for support. Apparently, I’m one of the only ones in my research group with industry experience. As a result, I’m the best person to ask for help with scoring an internship.
Naturally, all they wanted was a sample resume they could use to score an interview. To help them in their job search, I passed off my most recent resume as well as my resume from when I was hunting internships. By the end of the week, they received an interview. How cool is that?
Now, I don’t think I played that much of a role in their success, but it felt good to be asked for help. That said, I’m not a resume expert! However, I do know one. One of my friends from back when I worked at GE, Lizzy, has long been helping folks build their resumes. In fact, she’s so good at it that she decided to start a side hustle doing it. If you’re interested in learning more about her services, check out Resume Revival.
Exam Performance and More
Later in the week, I bumped into a student in one of my labs that was looking for a little bit of help in the class. To be quite honest, they’re doing well, but they wanted to perform even better.
As a result, I tried to figure out exactly where they were performing poorly to see if I could provide some support. After some investigation, it turned out that they were making small mistakes that were accumulating over time. Apparently, the sometimes felt rushed which lowered the quality of their work. My advice was to work on their time management by including a bit more structure in their schedule. We’ll see how that plays out.
After discussing grades, they asked me how to get a job. Again, I didn’t feel all that qualified to answer, but I tried to help. For whatever reason, they felt like not having a resume would hinder their chances to score a job. Of course, I mentioned that they could easily put together a resume even without any formal experience. We just had to figure out what they could leverage.
One of my tips was to leverage their travel experience. After all, they’re an international student, so I feel like they’re significantly more ambitious than many of their peers. From there, I asked them several questions like “are you a part of any clubs?” and “do you have any personal projects?” In the end, I was hoping to hit something tangible that they could leverage on their resume.
As I continued to fire off questions, our conversation shifted from “I want a job” to “I don’t know what I want to do with my life” which is something I can definitely empathize with. In fact, I still don’t know what I want to do, so I tried to help them the best I could by probing further. While we never settled on what they might want to do, we definitely eliminated some possibilities, so I felt like I did a decent job. Hopefully, they feel the same way.
Life in a New Place
In that same lab, I bumped into another student who was looking for a bit of life advice. In particular, they wanted to know how they could motivate themselves to get work done. Ever since moving to Columbus, they had been tempted by everything going on around them. Over time, they started to develop a Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) which was causing them to abandon assignments. Ultimately, they ended up turning to me for help.
To be honest, I was quite stunned at this point. Being a workaholic, I can’t really identify with their situation, so I had to really think on my feet. First, I asked if they had any noise cancelling headphones. After all, I’d love a pair myself because I definitely struggle with staying focused.
When they mentioned that noise wasn’t really an issue, I recommended being more disciplined with their time. In other words, I figured that maybe they just needed to schedule in their work time. That way, they would force themselves to at least put in an hour an a day, so they could slowly work into a better habit.
By that point, I realized the root of the problem: they were living with others who were influencing their bad behavior. At that point, I mentioned perhaps setting boundaries with their friends and roommates. If people were really the issue, they would need to address them directly. Otherwise, they may never get work done again.
After that discussion, I started to really feel like an adult for once. Not only was I giving advice, but I was helping someone problem solve their issues in real time. Now, I’m not sure I helped all that much, but I think they appreciated me hearing them out.
Since graduating from college, I couldn’t have felt more lost. As of today, I’m still not sure I’m where I want to be, and I’m having a lot of trouble finding people to support me along the way. That said, it feels good to be able to help someone else. Perhaps mentoring a few more people will help me find my way.
At any rate, thanks for letting me treat this space like a public diary. Hopefully, I can figure out my own life soon.
If you’d like to help me make this journey a bit easier, consider supporting The Renegade Coder over on Patreon. At the moment, I have 5 dedicated supporters, but you’re welcome to join the cause. At the very least, I’d love it if you hopped on the mailing list.
Otherwise, thanks for stopping by! See you soon.