A few months ago, I had the chance to interview a Gen Z researcher! I had never heard of that field before, let alone talk to someone in it. The researcher I interviewed focuses on social media and how it impacts my generation, along with how it will affect jobs in the future. I was able to learn about him through The Mentor Project. The Mentor Project is a nonprofit which teaches a variety of different people how to mentor and facilitates connections between mentors and mentees, which can be one-on-one or in a group. I have my own podcast through The Mentor Project – which is how I was able to interview this Gen Z researcher. This all began when I was bored and had nothing to do around the house – which I was stuck in because of COVID. This also meant I had no extracurriculars and a lot of extra time on my hands. My dad had been a mentor for The Mentor Project for about six months, and he was thinking about starting his own podcast with them. His podcast would be aimed towards high school students, and he thought it would be great if he could get my feedback; my dad even suggested that we work together on it. So, he put me in touch with his supervisor to learn more about how I could help. We talked on the phone a few times, and she eventually presented me with the opportunity to run my own podcast! My dad’s podcast fell through for a variety of different reasons, so I was able to focus my efforts on my own.
In my podcast, I interview the mentors from The Mentor Project for about thirty minutes to introduce them to our listeners. My podcast is aptly named Meet Your Mentor. We talk about the mentors’ careers, how they discovered their passions, what it means to be a mentor, and more. To prepare, I write an introduction for the podcast. This usually consists of information about the podcast itself, a little bit about me, and a summary about the featured mentor and their life. During the actual recording, I read the introduction and then we go ahead and begin with the interview. I try to make the interview as much of a conversation as possible so that it’s interesting rather than boring and clinical, and I like to come up with questions as I go.
Thinking of questions on the spot does tend to be challenging, and it has forced me to improve my active listening and improvisation skills. I do have a few basic questions I try to ask all the mentors, but still, I think it makes it more enjoyable for listeners when I come up with tailored questions. Even when I manage to think of a question on the spot, it can be really difficult for me to find the right phrasing to communicate my meaning. Sometimes during the podcasts, I will just have to pause and think for a moment. It is an interesting balance that I have to strike in those moments: pausing long enough to sort through my thoughts, but not long enough that the audience would be curious as to why I wasn’t talking. I would go so far to say that this has been one of my biggest challenges throughout my experience. This challenge also rings true for the conversation as a whole, not just when I am asking questions. As the host, it is up to me to maintain the flow of the conversation and prevent any awkward silences, but it can be difficult to come up with insightful comments to add to the conversation, especially when the mentor specializes in a topic I don’t know much about. For the second podcast I ever recorded, I wrote down a list of potential responses to use throughout the podcast, which I did because I felt that was the area that needed the most improvement after episode one of the podcast. I ended up using a lot more responses than I had initially planned, so the list didn’t work out too well. After that experience, I realized that I’m just going to have to trust myself and go with the flow. Even if you aren’t a podcast host, I still think active listening and improvisation are two skills everyone needs, and I am glad I’ve had the opportunity to hone these abilities.
When I started interning at The Mentor Project, I was excited at the prospect of having something else on my résumé, but I didn’t really know what to expect. I was pretty nervous about having an audience and knowing that if I were to mess up, it would be on the internet forever. But I tried not to let myself get too caught up in the moment, especially because I knew I would never achieve the ‘perfect’ episode. That realization didn’t hit me until a few episodes in, and it took some of the pressure off, which I’m sure helped me run things smoother, as did getting the hang of the podcast format and technology. And, as I got more comfortable with the mentors themselves, I tended to have more fun. In general, I am a very social person and I tend to feed off other people’s energy. Because of this, there have been a few episodes where I immediately clicked with the mentor. By the time it we were done talking, I had boatloads of energy! I definitely feel that this was my extroverted side emerging, and had I been an introvert, this experience would’ve been vastly different – and significantly more difficult – for me. My energy is definitely reflected by the mentor when the conversation flows, and I can learn a lot more from them.
Though I always learn from the mentors, there is one question which is extra helpful for me and other students, so I always try to ask: “What is some advice you have for people who are just starting out in your field?” The responses to this question have been varied, but it has been amazing for me to sit and listen to mentors talk about their ups and downs. One mentor in particular, a professor and networker, said that the best place to make new connections is college, and you shouldn’t waste that opportunity. This interview was the first podcast I did, and that advice has stuck with me since then. Hopefully I will put it to good use when I get to college. Another mentor said that it is never too late to start something new. Though this could be considered a common piece of advice, the person sharing it with me was an author and entrepreneur who started her own business relatively late in life. Hearing her say this, especially after listening to her talk about the process she went through and problems that arose, was very impactful to me since she was speaking from firsthand experience. Even when I don’t get the chance to ask mentors about advice they have, I am still able to learn so many new things from each and every one of them. This whole experience has been multifaceted in ways I didn’t even know were possible, and I will forever be thankful for it.
Before I started interning at The Mentor Project, I hadn’t had any experience with official mentoring, and I am just now beginning to see all the incredible things mentoring can do. There is one mentee at The Mentor Project who has taken advantage of the one-on-one mentoring The Mentor Project offers, and his story is the perfect example of what mentoring can accomplish. With a mentor’s help, he was able to make his own patent, and now he’s working on his second one! Even if your goals aren’t as “flashy” as getting a patent, there is so much knowledge to be shared among generations. Another topic that has commonly come up in my interviews is the idea that mentoring is a two-way street, and given what I’ve observed, this is absolutely correct. Not only can the mentee learn and grow from the mentor, but the opposite is true as well. Each experience is unique, and mentors often find themselves learning more from their mentees. Also, there is a common misconception that mentors need to be older than their mentees, which isn’t true at all. A mentor is simply someone who is able to share knowledge and help advise you, and knowledge can span throughout age groups. Mentoring can provide people with so many incredible opportunities, and I think everyone deserves at least one good mentor in their life.