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Success in STEM

Mentorship

Once you’ve determined the best way to find a job, decided to disclose or not, and seek appropriate workplace accommodations, the next step is ensuring you’re able to transition effectively into the workforce.

A mentorship opportunity can be an excellent way to jumpstart a new career or to make a transition between very different jobs as seamless as possible. In a typical organized workplace mentorship program, new hires or young professionals in a given field are partnered up with trusted professionals who already have a good deal of experience, and who wish to make that experience available to colleagues who may want some assistance finding their footing and learning the ropes. Mentorships can have other benefits beyond the initial transfer of knowledge, however. Simply by getting this initial boost, new professionals may feel more confident in their own abilities, resulting in increased productivity or efficiency as the new employee will already have been made somewhat familiar about workplace policies and procedures. Also, the mentor can easily serve as a connection to the greater professional community. By establishing this connection, younger staff members may find a more rapid integration into the social structure and hierarchy of a new organization, institution, or company. In short, there are many benefits to taking advantage of a mentorship program in the field you wish to work in.

This section will describe the features to look for in a prospective mentorship program and direct you to resources for mentorship programs in science and technology fields that are currently available throughout Canada.

First, it is important to understand exactly what kind of professional relationship you are getting into when taking part in a mentorship program. Typically, mentors are experienced individuals who are volunteering to support and guide younger professionals with little experience, so that they can adjust to new working conditions or quickly learn how to effectively perform in their new role. Mentorship programs will most likely involve one-on-one contact with a mentor, so they can answer any specific questions their mentees may have and offer any advice they may feel appropriate for the mentee. Depending on the program, a mentor may have several different mentees or only one, and the actual time allotted to a particular mentee may range from several weekly meetings to short monthly meetings depending on how much mentoring the mentee needs.

It is important to value the time spent with a mentor and to appreciate any assistance they can give. While a mentor is there to guide and support a mentee, it is important not to take advantage of this situation by making unreasonable requests or demands to the mentor. This includes requests such as asking that the mentor meet the mentee outside of work time to discuss work-related issues if that is not part of the mentorship program, or asking that the mentor show the mentee how certain tasks should be done by completing them themselves. This may be seen as taking advantage of another’s good will, and can potentially turn into an abusive work relationship. It would also be inappropriate for a mentee to try to convert this work relationship into a more familiar work friendship if this isn’t desirable to the mentor. The mentee must also keep in mind that as beneficial and reassuring as the mentee-mentor relationship may be, it must eventually come to an end, and to not feel discouraged or abandoned because of it. It simply means that the mentor or employer believes that the former mentee has achieved the goals set out by the mentorship program organizers, and is therefore viewed as a somewhat experienced professional rather than a professional in training.

After deciding to seek out or take part in a mentorship program, there are several factors to consider when choosing an appropriate one. First of all, the program should screen both mentors and mentees before any introductions are made. Mentors must be screened to ensure that they completely understand the vision and goals of the program, so the program organizers can be certain that a potential mentor won’t introduce any toxic or harmful elements into the relationship. Mentees must be screened to ensure that they are aware of what the program is offering, and to make sure that potential mentees are indeed in need of mentoring. Too many incoming mentees may overwhelm the program’s resources, and if all some young professionals require is a little reassurance, they may not need to take part in the full program. An adequate level of screening can keep a program both manageable and productive.

It is also important to remember that good mentors don’t just grow on trees. After the screening of potential mentors is complete, it is important to then give them some training or instruction about the vision of the mentorship program itself, what exactly is expected of mentors, and how to deal with the responsibilities of a mentor-mentee relationship. When looking for a mentorship program to take part in, a prospective mentee should then try to find one that has such a training element, so that the mentor they end up with can be as helpful and effective as possible. While almost any mentoring is good mentoring, a quality, well-trained mentor can help a new hire to go a long way in any organization.

Finally, a prospective mentee should become informed on the program’s policies regarding termination and evaluation. How long should the program last, ideally? What are the reasons it may end prematurely? Where should he or she go if the mentorship isn’t providing what they feel is necessary? All of these questions should be thought about and answered before entering into any mentorship arrangement, so that all parties involved know where they are standing. If the program does come to a conclusion without incident, as it ideally should, the mentee also should be able to offer feedback about how they were treated during the program, what aspects they enjoyed or felt were beneficial, and what aspects they felt could use some improvement. In the same way that learning is all but impossible without feedback, mentorship programs will not effectively change and grow over time without input from the mentees they serve. It is the mentee’s responsibility to evaluate the program and make their feelings known, so that future mentees can gain as much benefit as possible.

Now that we have taken a brief look into the qualities of a mentorship program and the factors to consider while deciding if a particular mentorship program is right for you, let’s look at some of the mentorship programs in Science and Technology related fields that are available across Canada. This list will be updated over time, so please check back occasionally and refer it to any other young Canadian professionals you may know who are seeking mentorship and employment opportunities in science and technology fields. Many of the programs listed here are not specifically directed towards people with disabilities, but state in their promotional material that they are actively looking for people who belong to equitable employment groups, and people with disabilities is one of these.

Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program for Western Canada

Residents of western Canada who are disabled due to physical or mental impairment, restricted in their ability to perform at least one of the basic activities of entrepreneurship or self-employment, are a new or current small business owner with a viable business plan, and who have previously been unsuccessful in obtaining other business funding may be eligible to receive business information, training, mentorship, and one on one counseling for the purposes of business development. Loans can also be obtained for people who have failed to obtain funding from other sources with flexible terms tailored to individual needs.
www.wd.gc.ca/eng/273.asp

The Biotechnology Initiative

The Biotechnology Initiative, which has been committed to connecting and growing professionals in the biotechnology industry since 1989, started its mentorship program in 2009. The not-forprofit industry association represents Ontario’s pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry. TBI promotes life sciences technologies and encourages their commercial success in Ontario through Government advocacy, stakeholder engagement, mentoring and education and promotion of Ontario’s world class science and industry. With over 300 members, TBI supports a wide range of sectors: academic and research institutions; government; companies from the biopharmaceutical industry, agriculture biotechnology sector, agricultural/ petrol bioproducts, medical devices, biopharmaceuticals, pharmaceutical multinationals, contract research/manufacturing, financial, legal, human resources and consultants.
www.ontbi.org

Okanagan Business Mentorship Network

This program was started by the Okanagan Science and Technology Council in 2006, to give entrepreneurs in the Okanagan region of B.C. support and funding for business ventures in the fields of technology and agriculture. It is funded by Western Economic Diversification Canada. For additional information, contact: Mike Winterburn, Director of Communications, Office of the Minister of National Revenue and Minister of Western Economic Diversification, Tel: (613) 995-2960

Environment Canada’s Science Horizons Youth Internship Program

This program offers promising young scientists and post-secondary graduates hands-on experience, through work on environmental projects under the mentorship and coaching of experienced scientists and program managers.
www.ec.gc.ca/sci_hor

MentorNet

MentorNet is an email-based mentorship program run by Canada’s Association of Information Technology Professionals. It isn’t widely publicized online, but the program managers have said that they would welcome participation from the disabled community.

GE Foundation Scholar-Leaders Program

The GE Foundation Scholar-Leaders Program in Canada is a unique program that provides financial support and skills development opportunities to 15 accomplished first-year undergraduate students from recognized institutions each year, who are pursuing degrees in the fields of engineering and business/management and are a member of one of the following groups: Aboriginal peoples*, persons with disabilities**, women in engineering programs***.

The program is funded by the GE Foundation, the philanthropic organization of the General Electric Company, and is administered by the Institute of International Education (IIE) on behalf of the Foundation.

  • A Canadian resident Aboriginal individual who is either First Nation status or non-status, Métis or Inuit.
  • A disability is defined as “a functional limitation that is caused by physical or mental impairment that restricts a student’s ability to perform the daily activities necessary to participate in studies at a postsecondary level or in the labour force, and that is expected to remain with the student for the student’s expected life.”
  • Women in engineering programs must be attending one of the following institutions: University of Alberta • McMaster University • University of Toronto • McGill University • École Polytechnique • Queens University

The program provides:

  • A $4000 per year scholarship for the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th years of your undergraduate program;
  • An opportunity to be mentored by a business leader at GE in Canada; and
  • Participation in GE Foundation Scholar-Leaders activities, including a specially designed leadership development seminar at GE Canada in Mississauga, Ontario;
  • Participation in community development projects.

Order of Canada Mentorship Program

While this program isn’t strictly focused on science and technology, it is a great opportunity offered through the Office of the Governor General of Canada, and it is open to students from all sectors of interest. It, and other, similar government initiatives can be found at: www.citizenvoices.gg.ca/en/themes/mentorship (The following text was obtained from an article at: news.gc.ca/web/article-eng.do?m=/index&nid=4733)

Her Excellency the Right Honourable Michaëlle Jean, Governor General of Canada, would like to invite dynamic youth to apply to the Order of Canada Mentorship Program. The Order of Canada Mentorship Program pairs 25 members of the Order of Canada with 25 young Canadians aged 18 to 25 for one year. The goal is to promote discussions between people who share the same interests and passions, and who want to help develop their communities. The mentor-participant pairs will first meet in person in the presence of the Governor General. After that, mentoring and discussions will take place online and by email.

The program allows for productive discussions to take place and friendships to form. Created in 1967, the Order of Canada is the masterpiece of Canada´s honours system and recognizes a lifetime of outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation. The Order recognizes people in all sectors of Canadian society. Their contributions are varied, yet they have all enriched the lives of others and made a difference to this country. For more information about the Order of Canada and its members, please visit www.gg.ca/honours/nat-ord/oc/index_e.asp.

The Order of Canada Mentorship program was created in 2008. It pairs 25 young Canadians with 25 members of the Order of Canada. The mentors and the young people they counsel will be invited to post blogs and take part in discussions forums on the www.citizenvoices.gg.ca website. Eligible candidates must be between the ages of 18 and 25. Participants will be selected by an independent committee based on their involvement in their community or area of interest, and the quality of their answers to the essay questions on the application form.


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