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Volunteer Spotlight – I think that you can learn critical skills by talking to other people who have been through it already.
Can you tell me why you decided to volunteer your time with GT Scholars?
I feel very fortunate in terms of the work that I do, which is impactful in some shape or form. I feel that I was able to get into this position because I’ve been very lucky with having a private education. I wanted to try to make it possible for others to realise that there’s an interesting route to go down through University and then into either academia or policy or somewhere in between.
I started looking around for a mentoring programme based on that. It’s been something that I’ve wanted to do for some time to try to help out with things like presentation skills or writing and approaching assignments, and how to make it more systematic and more structured and easier to do and ultimately more successful.
Have you ever had a mentor?
Yes, I have. I have had several, but the most impactful was my second supervisor for my PH. D. who is a scholar of strategic communication and insurgency with a background in journalism and documentary production and several other things. He was someone who I spent many hours talking to about a whole range of things over the last five years, and he really helped me understand that there was more to the work that I was doing than I had initially thought.
What did you gain from having a mentor?
I come from a very focused background in terms of the research that I do and he helped me bring in a lot of other kinds of theories and cultural references into the work that I do. He helped me think about it in a way that was a lot more ambitious and ultimately more interesting as well. His continuing presence and willingness to talk to me about anything in relation to the work I was doing is invaluable to me.
How important has support been in getting you to where you are today?
My job involves a lot of writing and a lot of thinking about data in various ways or using different methods to reach useful conclusions based on diverse data sets. So it’s been driven by the interactions that I’ve had with people who are more senior to me and smarter and more experienced. I would say that it’s everything. The whole approach that I have at work now is a result of an amalgamation of years of receiving advice from people who had more experience.
There are so many people to whom I’m massively indebted for the things I’ve learned from them, whether in relation to methodology or thinking about data or structuring an argument or presenting research.
Why do you think mentoring is valuable to young people?
Well, I think with certain things there is a trick to doing things in the right way, and I wish that I had known that when I was younger, like the importance of time management. I think that you can learn that stuff by talking to other people who have been through it already. Another big part of my job is doing briefings to the various sized audiences, sometimes very small, sometimes hundreds of people at a time.
The importance of public speaking and presentation skills is a critical skill to have. I think that the reason this particular programme appealed to me was the fact that I saw it as an opportunity to talk with young people and get them to do an informal knowledge sharing to an audience of me which isn’t a formal presentation or anything like that.
Getting practice on a week in week out basis, talking about stuff that they learned the previous week or things they found difficult or assignments that they’ve completed or approaches they took towards doing specific things. I feel that could hopefully go some way towards helping them generally in the delivery of presentations and speaking to audiences and comparing ideas.
What have you gained from volunteering with GT scholars?
It has been such an eye-opening experience as to how applied young people are today. Speaking to the mentees I have had regarding their experiences and the challenges they faced with regards to Covid and how they’ve tried to overcome them. All of that has been a really interesting experience for me.
I hope that the conversations that we’ve had have been even a tiny bit useful for either of them because it’s a challenging time that young people are having to live through today for all sorts of reasons.
What part of the volunteering process have you found the most fulfilling?
The most satisfying thing has been, in both cases, initially that first conversation being quite a difficult interaction, one where neither of us knows the other and don’t know anything about each other. But going from that, having a regular conversation where you know the other person, know your mentee and know what they’re doing and can have a normal chat about what’s going on. I guess the building of familiarity and the normalising of the conversations is, I think, a nice thing, and that’s why I have opted for doing shorter calls more regularly than longer ones.
What do you think is the most important skill in being a volunteer mentor?
I think probably time management, having the regular spot each week and also having regular communication with my mentee.
Is there anything you’d like to add about volunteering with GT Scholars or something that you would like possible volunteers to know?
The programme is really good. It seems to me like something well worth giving a bit of time to support each week. A couple of hours every month isn’t a big thing to take out of your work schedule. I guess that’s something to keep in mind, to get involved doesn’t mean that suddenly you have a really big drain on time.
I encourage other people not to be deterred by worrying about the meetings taking too much because it is useful. You can get a lot done in a conversation or series of conversations.