The inevitable abyss: find mentors who will help you get out
By Heather Ford, University of Leeds, Jonah Duckles, Software Carpentry Foundation, Angus Maidment, STFC, Martin Callaghan, University of Leeds, Terhi Nurmikko-Fuller, University of Oxford e-Research Centre, and Amy Beeston, University of Sheffield.
We are all continually entering and exiting the constant cycle of the hero’s journey. It’s the story of learning.
The question of best practices for the mentoring of a range of people from various different backgrounds is multi-faceted and complex. There are three main aspects that proved particularly fruitful for conversation:
Peer-education is a valuable endeavour that supports both learners and mentors. These definitions and roles can be flexible. In any learning relationship, individuals may swap between these roles a number of times.
Software development and computing is plagued by problems of negative mentorship and poor support systems. Snobbery exists between and across communities, and a mentor may even feel threatened by the person they are mentoring. It’s a complicated problem which will involve the whole community to adopt new practises and alter the situation from within.
Each learning experience is a manifestation of ‘The Hero’s Journey’. The trick is to identify those who will support your development and learning; ideally those who will lift you from the Abyss/Pit of Despair.
Attribution: Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monomyth#/media/File:Heroesjourney.svg
Positive mentorship practices help provide relevant structures and tactics for their mentees. When mentors remind mentees that they too were once in the same beginner’s position, this enables them to imagine possible futures for themselves. They can help to illustrate possible pathways and to encourage mentees along the way, for example learners first becoming helpers, then instructors and developers of a given program.
Mentors help mentees map-out the varied pathways toward the future they imagine for themselves. Sometimes this is about learning new skills, sometimes the discussion is about longer-term strategies, and at other times, about reacting to a particular challenge. A good mentor asks questions to support clear thinking, independent decisions, and finding our own paths. In this way, mentors help their mentees decide what step to take next to continue the learning process and travel towards the next thing.
There will be challenges ahead! The good news is that there are already plenty of mentors out there who will help you climb out of the abyss, not keep you in it. Good mentoring breeds good mentors: let’s build a culture and a community where we all help each other out.