Thoughts on being a better mentor

As a mentor I’m only as successful as my students are.

This has been my motto ever since I’ve started mentoring on a daily basis. Yes, I’m like a proud momma bear when my students finish the course and feel good when they compliment me, but the reality is that I’m only as successful as they are after they finish their course.

If you’re thinking of becoming a mentor or just want to become a better mentor, here a few points that might help you on your path.

1. It’s not about you

Teachers and mentors need to have this in their minds all the time. Your biggest success is when the student surpasses you. Never give bad advice or hold back information that could help your student progress, and never, never, never, take credit for their awesome work. Be proud that they grew with you and be open to grow with them.

2. Know your students

I cannot stress this enough. Your biggest value is in being able to individualize your support. Know who they are, what are their wishes, expectations, strong sides, and all those sides that need your support.

3. Encourage and push when possible

You are not a mother that will always be happy and proud, when her baby does something. You are a mentor that is able to help them reach higher. Once you know your students, you can also set the bar for success just a tiny bit higher than they think it’s possible. Challenge them, but don’t overwork them.

4. Give constructive feedback

Always saying how good they are will not help them grow. Teach them how to find information, tell them what they did good and also tell them where they could improve. Never forget that this only works if you explain your reasons for it. Why do you think something is good? Why do you think something needs improvement?

5. Listen, listen, listen

There is this anecdote that you can put a teacher in a classroom and she will easily talk for 45 minutes without any preparation. I know quite a lot of teachers and can say that for most this is true. Train yourself to listen more. Give them space to talk and figure things on their own.

6. You are not a therapist

Sometimes when the ties between mentor and a student are formed, the borders between personal and professional get blurry. Don’t forget your role and don’t forget that as much as you try to support, you also are not taught to be a therapist. Be understanding of their problems, but find appropriate person to help them if they need help.

7. Walk the talk and don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”

Talking is easy, showing is effective. Students will think you are a fraud if you cannot prove that what you’re saying is actually true. Having your own real-life experiences and work examples gives you credit and help with forming the trust. Also, don’t make something up just for the sake of personal image. Don’t know something? Be honest. Say you need to think about that and do research or ask a colleague. And don’t forget to tell them the answer later!

8. Never stop growing and learning

You cannot teach if you don’t learn yourself. The biggest problem of Universities is that the teachers are not part of real-life situations anymore and that the world changes so fast. Change with the world. Know the latest trends and tools. Grow. Don’t only grow professionally, but also personally.

9. Connect to others

We encourage students to connect to others, but it’s also important that mentors connect to one another and seek support when needed. You are not alone. Go to conferences, meetups, use Slack groups, Facebook, Twitter…

10. Share your connections

Last but not least, don’t hold the connections to yourself. Share them with others mentors and students. Together we are stronger!

All in all, the drive behind mentor’s work should always be the success of the student. When working with them, keep in mind these questions: Are they ready for the real world? Will they get a job? Will they be able to keep it?

Until next time,


  • Andreea Nesu

    Pia, what a lovely written article. I really like how you blend being professional and knowledgeable to being friendly and human. I think it feels so natural for you to describe these things because you do them from your heart. You want to be a better person first so you can give more and of better quality to your students. You are doing such a great job through your dedication and never ending energy. Thank you!!

    • pia

      Oh Andreea, thank you! I try to live what I preach. I still have loads to learn, but one that I do try every single day is to be genuine. And that also means doing the work that I love and sharing the excitement.

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