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What is mentoring about

Last January we conceived and put in place an on-site mentoring program along with the Living Territories conference. Let us share with you what we learned from this experience:

We are YPARD Serbia and YPARD France representatives, both of us are based in Montpellier so it is easy for us to work together to put in place common YPARD activities. Last September we saw the announcement of travel grants for young researchers willing to attend this conference. A question arises, what will organizers propose for this young researchers? Are organizers “youth” sensitive? We went to ask them!

Our objective was to ensure that young researchers that were mainly coming from the South were empowered after attending to this conference. We wanted to be sure that real and strong linkages would be built between North and South. And beyond, that a factual transfer of knowledge happens so that this new generation of professionals in research will be able to give the answers to the challenges that the world will be facing!

We spontaneously thought about suggesting organizers to run a mentoring program for the young researchers that they were going to bring to the conference.

What is mentoring about?

We observed that 3 conditions are needed for having a real and good mentoring program: 1) Putting together an experienced professional with a young one. 2) Creating the enabling environment for quality exchanges. 3) Facilitating interactions between them.

Mentoring is about allowing the mentor to share his/her experience and knowledge, and empowering the mentee to express in a confidence environment his/her career purposes and challenges to be taken.

In our case we invested a lot to create the enabling environment, for us this was the key point to ensure the success of the program. We wanted to innovate but at the same time we wanted to remain land grounded. We wanted to reach participants shaking what they have on their very inside. We thought about food… we gave them food for thought.

Giving food for thought

A creative culinary workshop: Food is the obvious link between agriculture and people, isn’t it? Food is the expression of living territories. It combines agricultural production and cultural heritage, collective and individual know-how. Our culinary workshop was a powerful way of preparing participants to the conference and it was a way to make them share about their cultural roots.

Meal time is a very strong and rich social experience. Sharing a meal is sharing part of our culture, and even more if we cook together! It is a very good way to learn how to handle and navigate in multicultural experiences. The meal is an open floor for exchanges and discussions. We exchange about how we combine ingredients in different ways across the world. We discuss about the preparation of the meal, how we serve it, at what moment of the day…

Believe me, with 15 nationalities among 16 participants, our culinary workshop was a real mine of gold to generate the enabling environment for our mentoring program. It was a delighting success.

The ground was fertile for collecting rich fruits from the mentoring program taking place during the conference. An indeed, both mentors and mentees gave very positive feedback from this experience. Mentors were refreshed by new thoughts and ideas from mentees. They were challenged by answering questions about how to handle their career development, how to deal with epistemological and even ethical questions on their professional practice. And mentees learnt about a new way of attending a conference, being proactive, truly proactive.

Why is mentoring so powerful?

The fact of matching a young professional with an experienced professional is extremely motivating for both of them! The young can see a real model to follow. He/she can easily think that one day he/she can become such an experienced professional. The fact of exchanging closely with “an example to follow” enables his/her thought to become a concrete ambition and not to remain a dream impossible to achieve. They gain on self-confidence: “I deserve to be matched with this recognized professional” “this mentoring program considers that I have the quality to exchange with this high level professional!” “I have to give the best of me”.

The mentoring program creates an atmosphere where experienced professionals allow themselves to speak about their experiences, in both terms “personal life” and “career development”. The willingness to share becomes very strong, out of the competitive framework of research, within a mentoring program there is no hidden agenda, they naturally find themselves transferring their knowledge in a positive way.

To reach further: be youth inclusive!

Mentoring program at the conference is also about fostering inclusion of young colleagues into the scientific community working on the topic. We have observed the mentors presenting mentees to their colleagues, giving them the possibility to network and develop future connections. In their own testimonies, several mentors have mentioned how they remember when they were young and had no mentor to introduce them to the community, hence always staying apart somewhere in the corner, and not feeling empowered to express their thoughts.

Intergenerational exchange parallel with peer-to-peer exchange in the international context was a catalyst environment for successful handover of the accumulated collective knowledge about such a complex topic as territorial development.

With sharing, questioning, exchanging ideas, cooking together, young researchers and professionals were standing on the shoulders of giants, and everyone could see clear living territories!

Picture credit: Creative commons