This past week I had the incredible opportunity to share lunch with one of the most influential professors I’ve met in my four years at BYU, his wife and my friend/former classmate/his former TA Bradley.
Conversation ranged from Church history, grad school, Radiohead, missions, how hipster his son is and the woefully complicated states of both mine and Bradley’s love lives.
This fall I’ll take my sixth class from this professor, meaning I’ve had one class with him every semester since January 2011. My time at BYU would not have been nearly as enjoyable were it not for the encouragement and support I got from him. Mind you, he’s not even a professor related to my major (communications/journalism) or my minor (Spanish). I learned from his classes not just how to succeed academically but how to work through the rest of life’s troubles as well.
But how many students get the opportunity to not just sit in a class and learn from a professor but also to discuss the finer points of what makes life great?
I wanted to know what makes a good student/professor, or mentor/mentee, relationship tick. So as any curious and motivated college student would, I did some research using the trusty library databases.
The first article I looked at made me wish I remembered more from my senior year AP Stats class in high school. Laura Gail Lunsford of the University of Arizona conducted a study focusing on the the behaviors of mentors and mentees for the relationship to be most successful. A lot of fancy words and empirical numbers later, I got to this sentence: “Mentoring can provide a powerful transformative experience for talented youth.” But more importantly, Lunsford emphatically said that mentoring is a reciprocal relationship; the mentor can provide any number of networking or academic opportunities but when the mentees stay motivated and curious the mentor benefits as well.
This doesn’t seem all that new or exciting but studying how mentors benefit from students isn’t done all that often. Lunsford found that students contribute to how successful the relationship is more than the professor. When students are paired with the right professors, it’s not just their academic and professional needs being met but their psychological needs related to developing a strong identity, which benefits the mentor as well.
Another study I looked at it, this one conducted by four faculty members from the Department of Counseling and Applied Psychology at Northeastern University, also examined the “mutually beneficial relationship” that is mentoring. This group found “that friendship, nurturance, open-mindedness, and trustworthiness are key to mentoring relationships.”
So once again, the number of career or networking opportunities the mentor provides means very little unless the mentor/mentee relationship is founded in mutual respect and, most simply, friendship.
What I find most fascinating is the majority of articles I looked at dealt with the psychology behind mentoring rather than the math behind it. I didn’t see any that had to do with the statistics of students who, after being mentored, went on to be more successful than their peers who didn’t have mentors. (Though I am sure those studies exist and I am also sure the results conflict.) The psychological implications behind a mentor/mentee relationship are what actually make the difference, though, not the statistics.
As a lowly 20-year-old living handwritten letter-to-handwritten letter in what was undoubtedly a sophomore slump caused by the departure of all my best male friends less than a year before, by registering for “American Christianity” I unknowingly changed my life and set myself on a course for success.
I’m a (much) better writer on account of how all my papers experienced a baptism of red pen; I’m a bigger Church history nerd and realize the incredible importance of understanding the Church’s past to better prepare for its future; I’m a more compassionate person.
Just as everyone deserves to experience true love in this life, I’m confident in saying everyone deserves to find a professor they’re willing to take six classes from and experience a life-altering lunch with a professor and his/her significant other as well.