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On mentorship and constructive criticism

Diploma Programme (DP) graduate Vidish gives his take on what makes a successful mentor-mentee relationship. This is ­­his third story in our graduate voices series.

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By Vidish Parikh

Have you ever had to give someone feedback? It can seem daunting. Here you are being trusted by someone—your friend, your colleague, perhaps your family—to give them your honest perspective. Yet, you feel at odds with yourself: what can I really say that will be both valuable and honest.

First, let’s think about what mentorship is about: If you are giving someone your time and assessing their work, you are mentoring them in some capacity. So, what does good mentorship entail? It’s a loaded question because good mentorship is often distinct. Yet one theme stands out: A mentor never gives their mentee all the answers. And that’s what makes both being a mentor and a mentee challenging.

Accepting and offering different perspectives

There’s an adage: you can lead a horse to drink water but you can’t make it drink. Not everyone will embrace everything you say. But that’s OK because constructive criticism is not about imposing. It is strictly about suggesting. Once you cross the line to imposing, it becomes a slippery slope.  So, whether your mentee makes all the revisions you suggest, remains secondary.

“We all need clarification or a different perspective from time to time.”

Constructive criticism, then, is about providing evidence for your viewpoints. It’s about showing someone why your approach—your perspective—is worthy of consideration. That’s a high bar to set, but think back to how many times have you gotten cookie-cutter feedback from someone, just to feel dazed and anxious about the true calibre of your work?

The IB taught me what mentorship was about. In our HL history class, my classmates and I would routinely write 45-minute essays. We would critique each other, sometimes in groups, sometimes individually. I learned that even the best essay needs multiple perspectives and people can provide those perspectives.

Sometimes mentorship and feedback aren’t formal. Value those informal conversations you have with your teachers. They might know you better than you think and could suggest something you may not expect but that may, nonetheless, pay dividends in the long run. This is also the part where I remind you, the reader, to be open-minded. It applies to both sides—the mentor and the mentee. The first or easiest way of doing something is not the only one, regardless of whether it has always worked. Change for the sake of change isn’t always bad.

Mentorship is two-way communication

I think back to my senior year in the IB when I was first writing a skeleton draft of my extended essay (EE) about how much I valued having time with my EE advisor. As the mentee, always remember when someone gives you their time, it is the most valuable resource they can give you. From there, it is up to you to be present—both mentally and physically—to ensure that your discussions are productive. After all, feedback is often a conversation, so be prepared. You give context, they give you their thoughts.

“Allow people to benefit from your experience and they may remember you as an inspiration.”

Sometimes, as the mentee, you will have to seek out feedback. I have learned that people won’t always tell you what’s wrong unless you ask. So, ask. In university, this has meant going to office hours to pose engaging questions. We all need clarification or a different perspective from time to time.

I have learned to appreciate the maturity it takes to actively seek feedback—to open yourself up to criticism, not only from friends but possibly from strangers or at least acquaintances. If you are the mentor, in this situation it’s your job to support mentees. I think relatability is one of the most underappreciated skills of being a mentor: No matter how much of an expert you may be, there was once a time when you were utterly confused about something and needed help. Allow people to benefit from your experience and they may remember you as an inspiration. So, say yes to those informal coffee chats and give mentorship a chance. Allowing someone to be comfortable with asking questions can also help a mentor grow so feedback can make augment both sides’ perspective.

This brings me to a few final points: be careful how you choose to frame requests for feedback. That is, if you are seeking feedback, make sure it’s because you want to learn. Bring that IB mindset—the globally aware, naturally inquisitive perspective for which the IB is known—to such situations. Remember it’s about the work you submitted, not you. If someone has taken the time out of their day to give you some form of substantive feedback, you are luckier than you may initially believe.

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Vidish Parikh is a graduate of Turner Fenton Secondary School in Brampton, Ontario in Canada. He is currently studying economics, with a minor in French, at Wilfrid Laurier University. Reading is one of his favourite things to do, and George Orwell’s 1984 is, by far, his favourite book. Vidish also has a passion for learning languages, and good conversation. Connect with him here.

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