Productive effects of the “click” that underlies a mentoring relationship

April 4, 2024 at 8:48 AM
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Productive effects of the “click” that underlies a mentoring relationship

by Téa Stjepanovic UA’25 and Jim Stellar

We are looking at this mentor-mentee relationship from opposite ends of the continuum and are focusing here on the benefits to each person. This blog post follows a recent one in which we describe the “click” that happens between people (e.g. mentor-mentee) and how that depends upon a concept called sympathetic intelligence. As we discussed previously, the mentor can be a counter-effect to the school-as-a-factory view of a university. Now we return to discuss what makes it useful either as a mentor or as a mentee to have this “click.”

From the student’s perspective, a mentor provides the student with input beyond the academic discourse. It is the reflective intellectual conversations that are the most valuable to the mentee. Similar to the mentor’s viewpoint, the mentoring relationship serves as an eye-opener, not only to the field of study but to the world around us. To grow as an individual, it is imperative to expose oneself to various perspectives and ideologies.

Connecting back to sympathetic intelligence, the intrapersonal relationship within the individual is what leads to the interpersonal relationship between others. The degree to which a person is in tune with their emotions dictates the meaningfulness of conversations. From my (TS) standpoint, the introspectiveness from both parties is what creates an open state of ideas that allows for this transfer of knowledge. In this environment, I can touch base with the part of my mind that studies/values emotional intelligence and have an opportunity to explore these ideas with another person.

In addition, the mentor increases the aspirations of the mentee. Through our shared conversations, I have learned about JS’s personal journey to studying behavioral neuroscience and psychology. The honesty JS displayed allowed me to reflect on my own experiences. I can connect to his struggles with deciding his career path and his troubles with dyslexia.

Speaking to a person who has succeeded in their career, especially someone who has overcome hardships similar to your own, graces you with feelings of optimism. Being clouded by hardships and personal life obstacles can easily lead to a decrease in self-confidence and an increase in self-doubt. In my case, the struggles I face with my ADHD in my academic career demonstrate this. The rate of my success not being on my side coupled with my demographic adversities, leads to feelings of discouragement. This positivity encourages me to implement a pragmatic approach in my mindset.

From the faculty perspective, the benefits of having mentees are many. Let’s focus on two. First, there is a tendency for a professor to see the intellectual world through a well-established set of perspectives. While these perspectives can have power and depth, they can also be limiting. In my (JS) experience, having TS as a respected and trusted junior intellectual colleague, a mentee, can dramatically re-frame those established perspectives. Sometimes a student can think of something and say something that when interpreted through the professor’s established perspective can do more than just add a nuance to that established thinking. It can open up entirely new avenues of thinking.

A second benefit is somewhat more subtle, but there is an enthusiasm among students, particularly undergraduates that, if the mentor is open to it (see above), can lead to an enthusiasm for the professorial mentor. JS tells the story of being about 17 years old and asking his father why he was the “youngest old man I know.” His father, also a professor, said something like, “Son, if you end up going into my field, as a professor you will have a great deal of contact with students. Their youth somehow seeps into you, almost by osmosis, and it keeps you young.” As JS now confesses, he is at the age when he asked his father that question and, even though the mechanism is mysterious, he agrees with the assessment.

Sympathetic intelligence: As discussed previously, this is a concept that comes from an emerging center. It focuses not on the emotional intelligence (EQ) that allows people to read each other’s (or their own) feelings, but instead focuses on how people connect using what they have and what is in the environmental context. In this student-faculty connection about which we are writing here, that context is the college or university environment. So many things separate professors and students, including age, expertise, authority, etc. But we all have the same brains (e.g. cognitive and limbic system brain circuits), and when a connection is made, information of both an IQ and EQ nature flows between the participants.  Now this effect takes some time to develop and both students and faculty are busy people. So the connection is not for everybody or not perhaps at this time. But when it happens, it can be highly positive at facts-and-theories or IQ level and at a value-judgment or EQ level for both parties. That is what sympathetic intelligence predicts when people resonate, like the analogy of two tuning forks reacting to the same sound frequency as seen in this sympathetic intelligence short video.

Mentoring: In the last blog, we touched base on the factory model that robs us students of our value or inspiration in college. Mentoring fights against this mold by reviving the humanity within us all. I (TS) believe that our bustling economic world has offset the work-life balance. We are so consumed by the never-ending grind that we have isolated ourselves both mentally and physically from the prospect of community. It is virtually impossible to accomplish everything all on your own accord. Mentoring promotes support and reaching out for help. Unlike the factory model mentioned above and in the previous blog, the mentoring relationship has the ability to be balanced; a positive to both parties. Mentoring makes the world go round and reconnects us to togetherness.

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