Career Tips

Redefining Mentorship (Part 1 of 5)

By Taylor Whittington & Dave Isbell

When was the last time you thought about mentorship? If you have been in the workplace for a while you might be thinking that the answer is “never.” Typically, the first image that comes to mind when hearing “mentor” is some kind of older person who is passing on wisdom to a younger person. In the workplace, you might conjure up an image of a senior employee, perhaps an executive, who is providing one-on-one guidance to an employee who is less experienced. Sure, those are both examples of mentorship. They also both imply power dynamics and may even come with a formal programmatic structure that is likely time-bound and specifically goal-driven. However, I’d like to expand your definition of the word.

Go back with me a few years (or decades) and think about your college experience. Think about your favorite professor for a minute. You know, the one who stands out in the sea of people with PhD’s (and Teaching Assistants who want PhD’s) whose names have been forgotten in the mix of learning experiences, football games, and the parties you weren’t old enough to attend. Why do you remember THAT professor’s name? What did your favorite do that made them your favorite?

I’ll go out on a limb here and say that they probably took a personal interest in you or your work, or maybe they had an uncanny ability to get you to take a personal interest in the subject they were teaching. It could be that at the time they didn’t seem all that “nice” as you read through all of the red penned revisions they assigned you on that paper you labored on until 5am the night before. Even still, they challenged you in a way that made you better in some way. And here you go! Now you have a memory of a “mentor-like” figure for a point of reference during the rest of this discussion. If you really think about it, then you will come to the same conclusion that I have. Mentorship is one of the main keys to becoming successful in nearly every personal or professional endeavor.

The crux of mentorship is that the mentee/protégé has become better in some way because of the interaction. However, I would also argue that the mentor is also better off for the interaction! Studies show that the “mentor relationship” is one of the primary keys to successful mentorship and that word tends to be one of the reasons why people shy away from the topic. It may feel cumbersome or far too time consuming for busy professionals to engage in a “relationship” with a mentor or mentee. It may also seem intimidating to be the “sage with all the answers” or the other way around, the person who is in the “humble” position of not having all of the answers. That may be a model of mentorship, but there are other ways to think about of mentorship.

The next few weeks we’ll be sharing with you some of our ideas, stories, and tips about mentorship. We intend to challenge the thought that it takes some kind of special wisdom to be a mentor, or that it takes youthful inexperience to be a mentee. We hope that you’ll be inspired through these conversations enough to seek out the right person to go along with you on the next stage of the journey you are on.


Taylor Whittington is a student employee (Professional Enrichment Assistant) in the MSUAA and is graduating in May 2018 from Michigan State University with a Bachelor’s in Social Relations & Policy/Bioethics/Science, Technology, Environment & Public Policy from James Madison College. Next fall, she plans to begin a Master’s in Public Health at that school in Ann Arbor. 

Dave Isbell is the Assistant Director of Alumni Professional Enrichment in the MSU Alumni Association and is the primary person responsible for this blog and our corresponding Twitter account. His primary role in the MSUAA is to develop online content that helps Michigan State alumni to live, work, and play better in their own communities. Dave is not able to accept individual appointments, but in developing programs and projects he does draw from his experience as a Licensed Master Social Worker and his background as a professional Career Coach since 1999. Mentorship has played a significant role in his life and he has enjoyed being both the protege and the mentor. 





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