Thursday, December 3, 2009

Different mentors for different reasons

Most recently, we talked about the mentor/mentee relationship between firms and interns. Before we delve further into this, an explanation is necessary regarding the official types of mentorship per IDP. There's the IDP supervisor and there's the mentor. These two roles are delineated more clearly in the IDP Guidelines found at NCARB's IDP website, but here's the short version. Your IDP supervisor is someone you work for and who provides you with daily tasks and monitors your professional progress. Meanwhile, your mentor is an advisor, sounding board, coach, reality check, etc. While your mentor must be licensed, s/he doesn't have to work with you and doesn't even have to be in the same state as you (though I imagine it would be more helpful if they were kinda close by).

It's the mentor part that we'll discuss here for now. While the IDP Guidelines indicate that you should decide on frequency of meetings and length of relationship and so on with your mentor, I'm not entirely convinced that that's necessary. Maybe it's the Gen Xer in me that bristles at this, but it feels awfully formal and stuffy to me. One can have a formal mentorship relationship if one wants, but an intern can get just as good of a mentorship experience just by talking to licensed professionals, asking them questions and advice, asking them to lunch or coffee occasionally and bouncing ideas off of them, and generally engaging in a mentor/mentee relationship without ever sitting down formally and agreeing on x, y, and z.

First off, having only one mentor, formal or not, means that you're only getting one person's point of view on the profession, and architecture is too expansive of a profession to only get one person's input. Having more than one mentor means you're benefiting from a larger pool of experience. For example, if you're wondering whether you should leave your present firm and take a chance elsewhere, I wouldn't be the person to ask, as I've only worked at one firm my entire life. However, if you're wondering how to deal with a cranky engineer or passive-aggressive coworker, I'm your gal (when I'm not designing buildings or working on Intern 101, I teach communication classes at an adult ed center). If you had a mentor that you worked with and then another that you don't work with, you can get two points of view on that passive-aggressive coworker's behavior, one or both of which may be valid.

Other than the formality of the mentorship thing, here's what else disturbs me about this process: according to the IDP Guidelines, the IDP supervisor is the one who certifies if all the info and experience you report on your experience report is correct, but the mentor is the one who signs your IDP reports. This makes no sense to me. The IDP supervisor should be the one who signs it because s/he knows what you've acquired experience in and what you've actually accomplished at work. The mentor's role is that of professional counselor; his/her input should enhance your experience, not be the final t-crosser and i-dotter. And because of the fluid nature of this profession, it's quite likely that your IDP supervisor will at times have to act as your mentor and give you suggestions on how to deal with some situation or suggest what you should work on next in your career, and your mentor will have to act as your supervisor and give you input on the best way to tackle a project. I know that the proverb "it takes a village to raise a child" is overused, but it rather fits here: it takes a village to properly mentor an intern. It takes one or more IDP supervisors and mentors and lots of people in general, being available to answer questions and push an intern to get things done and be resourceful and provide feedback and support and sometimes just to listen. So while the IDP Guidelines have one way of setting up the internship development structure, I suggest that you feel free to experiment a bit with the mentorship part and find relationships that work best for you.

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