In Praise of Mentorship

“Our chief want in life is somebody who will make us do what we can”. So said the famous American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson. Children, no less than adults, don’t thrive when things are done for them. They want to do it themselves. Whatever it may be! But more often than not, they need help to make that happen. 

In many cases, additional academic support alone can be the all-important missing link. That crucial aspect of Maths that they hadn’t fully grasped, that approach structuring essays that really addresses the question, that aspect of French grammar they had always misunderstood. 

However, in many cases, it’s more than just knowledge that is holding them back. Poor habits, a distracting work environment, a negative mindset, or a combination of all of the above can be the changes that are needed most. This is especially so when added to that most persistent obstacle of all; the inability to see these changes through. It is here that a Mentor can be transformational.

What is a Mentor and how does it differ from a tutor? A mentor is your ally. They are your coach, your guide, your sounding board through the course of your studies. Tuition is, naturally, an important part of their role. But a Mentor goes beyond academic tuition. Mentoring is about holistic support, tailored to you, that will build the skills, habits, attitudes and knowledge to empower you to realise your full potential.

Each student requires something different from their Mentor. There is no one size fits all approach. For some this is regular hour long sessions online, for others regular meetings in person. Others benefit from almost daily check-ins; either for encouragement, accountability or both. Each Mentor will adapt their approach to the specific needs of a student and, crucially, encompassing both academic and pastoral priorities.

One area where Mentoring can be of particular value is at the start of a university. Undergraduate courses in the UK especially can often feel very unstructured and for students accustomed to a great deal of contact time during school, this can be a difficult adjustment. Research has repeatedly shown that children and teenagers thrive when given consistent boundaries and whilst many students can find it exhilarating when these are suddenly removed, many also find it bewildering, with negative consequences for their work. 

A good Mentor will see a student in the round. They will help them to prioritise both academic and extra-curricular commitments, and to place both in the context of self-care. Managing workflow, discussing ideas, providing academic support where gaps have emerged and developing key skills within a subject area are all vital, but so too are making time for sleep, exercise, nutrition, socialising and extra-curricular commitments. Learning to master the balance of these elements lies not only at the heart of academic success but also a sense of fulfilment and control over one’s life.

Bonas MacFarlane has been providing top academic Mentors to students for over 25 years. We work with outstanding Mentors who marry academic excellence with a proven record of pastoral care and commitment for young people. By seeing a student in the round and supporting their various unique needs, they create the environment where students can fulfil their full potential. They are that somebody to “make us do what we can”. 

by Ed Ballard, Manager, Higher Education Team, Bonas MacFarlane Education