March Mentorship Minutes


Thank you for participating in the Faculty of Medicine’s pilot Peer Mentorship Program! This is the first edition of Mentorship Minutes, a monthly email highlighting ideas & resources related to peer mentorship. I apologize for the delay in launching this newsletter, and hope it will help enrich and inform your mentorship experience going forward.

– Dr. Karen Ross, Grad & Postdoc Wellbeing Support Coordinator, Faculty of Medicine Graduate & Postdoctoral Education Office



As we launched this year’s program, the most common question from mentors related to how to build strong mentorship relationships online. The good news is that we have all spent the past year building a repertoire of strategies for sustaining relationships in socially distanced ways. Mentorship draws on the same skills, as you may have found while connecting with your mentor/mentee over the past several months.

Nonetheless, here are a few tips and observations:


“The art of virtual mentoring in the twenty-first century for STEM majors and beyond” (Nature Biotechnology):

Highlight from Article Food for thought …
Screen-sharing allows mentors and mentees to directly demonstrate online activities (software, literature search strategies, etc.) Zoom can be used along with tools like Google Docs for in-the-moment co-editing (e.g., of a scholarship application, important email, or CV).
Establishing an agenda and/or goals for each meeting can help ensure everyone’s needs are being met. Goals/agenda don’t need to be formal, but it can be helpful to clarify what both parties would like to focus on (e.g., what would make you glad we had this talk today? What small outcome would make a difference to you in the coming week/month?)
Sharing personal stories of failure or setbacks can help normalize discouraging experiences as part of the “journey toward success.” The article writes as though failure is firmly in the rearview mirror for mentors: “I persevered, and just look at me now!” It might be more realistic, honest, and powerful for mentors and mentees to practice vulnerability around “failures” that *haven’t* resolved neatly into success (at least not in the expected way). How have you managed, accepted, reframed, or coped with those more complex disappointments?
Mentors (and mentees) can make introductions to others in their network – whether potential collaborators, future colleagues, or advisors. Mentorship can also be used to plan and practice for networking conversations – e.g., what questions might you want to ask? Do you have an “elevator pitch” for your research interests?
Mentorship can support us in “bold thinking, bravery in the face of doubt and commitment to pursuing our own hypotheses” (p. 1481). “Risky” projects may feel especially risky right now, when so many aspects of life are uncertain. Mentoring relationships can be a safe space to dream big – to reconnect with the questions that fascinate you, that tap into your love of science and learning and your reasons for being in graduate school or academia.

“Mentorship in the Age of COVID-19”

As someone who thrives in social situations, I’ve long been a proponent of in-person meetings. Perhaps because of that personal preference, I was a holdout on virtual mentorship, sure that nothing could supplement the ‘real deal’ of meeting face-to-face. But that first FaceTime meeting (and a handful of other virtual interactions in the weeks since) has changed my mind.”

I enjoyed Kelly Hobson’s personal reflection on starting a mentorship relationship during the pandemic. As Kelly points out, meeting through video calls gives us a glimpse of each other’s homes and personal lives – pets, kids, décor, favourite coffee mug. Witnessing these quirks and circumstances can be a shortcut to connection: an instant reminder that our mentor or mentee is a real, multifaceted human being whose life extends beyond their studies or research.


“Stanford researchers identify four causes for ‘Zoom fatigue’ and their simple fixes”

By now, most of us are familiar with Zoom fatigue – both the phrase and the experience. Some new research has articulated four key reasons for this phenomenon and tips for alleviating it:

Source of Fatigue Tip
Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact is highly intense. Exit from full-screen and reduce the size of the Zoom window to minimize face size; try using an external keyboard to increase the “personal space bubble” between you and the screen.
Seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real-time is fatiguing. Use the “hide self-view” button, which you can access by right-clicking your own photo.
Video chats dramatically reduce our usual mobility. Try to adjust your setup to allow distance/flexibility (e.g., external keyboard or webcam; standing rather than sitting).
The cognitive load is much higher in video chats. Give yourself “audio only” breaks (not only turn off your camera but turn away from the screen and just listen). Try phone or audio-only calls with your mentor/mentee, if you’re already on a lot of Zoom calls.


Although every relationship is different, many mentor/mentee pairs may be getting to the point where they’ve “broken the ice,” gotten to know each other, and addressed the mentee’s most pressing questions. If the mentee has settled into their program and things are ticking along, some pairs might find themselves in a bit of a lull, like the awkward silence that can follow the “standard” getting-to-know-you questions of meeting someone at a party or a first date: Where to next?

This is an ideal moment to take stock and answer that question together. How could we use this relationship? For instance …

  • A mentor isn’t a coach, but they can provide support, suggestions, and accountability for the mentee’s plans to reach an identified goal.
  • A mentor isn’t a counsellor, but they can provide a “sounding board” for talking through and clarifying a problem, difficulty, or mental block/barrier.
  • A mentor isn’t a supervisor, but they can help a mentee work through a research problem or dilemma from different angles.

Peer mentors can help mentees clarify what they might want to add, try, or change to improve their experience of their degree – whether related to coursework, research, networking, extracurriculars, or personal/professional development. Mentors can also ask for opportunities to practice certain skills with their mentees – like using the “GROW” model (Goal, Reality, Options, Will/Way Forward) to structure a conversation.


Graduate Game Plan

If you need help identifying proactive goals to work on in mentorship, UBC’s Graduate Game Plan is a great resource. The Graduate Game Plan suggests goals and tasks associated with four stages of a graduate degree: Getting Started, First Year, Mid-Program, and Near Completion. Within the First Year, for instance, the key themes are “Aim for success,” “Start your thesis or dissertation plan,” and “Prepare for ethical review,” and within each theme are a series of guidelines and suggestions that can help you design your own goals, milestones, and timelines. For an abbreviated overview, check out “A step-by-step guide to keeping track of grad school activities” by UBC’s own Jacqui Brinkman.


“75 Things to Do With Your Mentees” [in 2003]

While researching peer mentorship, I stumbled across this document: “75 Things to Do With Your Mentees: Practical and effective development ideas you can try.” It was (self-)published in 2003 and feels even older (“Fax them potentially useful articles“!), but amongst the outdated language I found a few timeless tips. For instance:

9. Help your mentees clarify their personal visions—what would they like to be/do/own/influence/be with/be remembered for in the next one to five years?

15. Introduce them to at least two people who could be helpful to them.

22. Offer to edit a letter [email], proposal, or other document they write.

27. Be a “shadow consultant” on parts of projects they’re doing. As you discuss their steps, decisions, strategies, and feelings, you’ll have live data on their knowledge, abilities, and attitudes.

35. Ask their advice about a project or problem on which you’re working. (Related: 40. Have your mentees teach you something).

53. Have your mentees shadow or observe you as you work [especially if it’s a task they will have to do in the future – submit a conference abstract, reply to a journal editor, etc. This can be done via screen-sharing on Zoom or similar platforms]. Make it impactful through “structured shadowing.” Prepare them beforehand, do the activity, and debrief afterward.



The Graduate & Postdoctoral Education Office is excited to be recruiting two graduate students for paid, part-time summer Work Learn positions. One position focuses on graduate student wellbeing and the other focuses on curricula in Faculty of Medicine courses. For more information, click here.



Are you interested in improving supervisory relationships in the Faculty of Medicine? Curious about how creative formats could be used to spark discussion – beyond the same old workshops and webinars? Help me pilot an online, theatre-based dialogue resourceRock the Boat, that seeks to explore complex issues around graduate supervision. I’m looking for volunteers who can participate in a 1-hour virtual session next week (March 15-19). For information, click here!

If you have questions about your mentorship experience or suggestions for future Mentorship Minutes newsletters, please contact me at Wishing you a happy and healthy month as we enjoy the signs of spring!


“All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better.”

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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