Two-time alumna Egla Aitkens (BSc Nursing, 2008 & MSc Health Management, 2012) has been a qualified nurse since 1986. She joined the mentoring scheme in 2015 and has volunteered as a mentor every year since, never looking back. Her commitment has won her the appreciation of the students she has helped, which is reflected in several nominations at the Mentor of the Year awards – winning the award for excellence in 2020. We spoke to Egla about her experiences as a mentor across the years.
Tell us a bit about your time at City.
I joined City, University of London as a student in 2004 having arrived from Jamaica 3 years earlier. I qualified in 1986 as a registered nurse and arrived at a time when nurses were encouraged to upgrade their qualifications from a certificate/diploma qualification to a degree.
I completed my BSc in Cancer Nursing and later went back to do MSc in Health Management. My time at City was challenging from a cultural and an academic perspective. It was the first time I was doing a university programme. Working full time and studying part-time required discipline and commitment to an extent which stretched my development. The tutorial support was great but there was a missing link. Admittedly at the time, I was not sure what that missing link was, however, my days on campus gave me that buzz which said ‘this is a great place to be and failing is not an option’ so I kept on.
How did you first hear about the professional mentoring scheme? What inspired you to join the scheme?
I was scrolling through my emails at work, and I saw the Alumni e-newsletter. There was a request for volunteer mentors, I thought to myself how I would have loved to have one such mentor when I was struggling to find my place during my studies. I thought about international students trying to adapt and how mentoring might help them. Frankly, I did not hesitate but submitted my expression of interest that day. There have not been any looking back or regrets since.
In your opinion, what is a mentor supposed to do? What are the positives of having a mentor?
Mentees are not looking to be parented. They often just want a safe base to bounce ideas, reflect and glean from our experience. As a mentor, my role is to encourage the mentee to set realistic goals and explore ways of achieving them without becoming stressed and overwhelmed. I believe it is important for mentors to send a message, that hard work is needed for success, but it need not be a killjoy. If I can get them to infuse some passion in their pursuit of the goal, I would have done my job as a mentor.
What do you wish a mentor had told you when you were studying or getting started in your career?
If I had a mentor when I was studying, I am sure I would have done better. On many occasions I lacked direction, I ended up switching modules because I was fearful of failing what I found to be a difficult module. The fear of failing was my survival mode. I wish I was told about setting small goals and celebrating small successes during my studies. The expectation and anticipation of succeeding would then have been my thriving mode.
What has been one of the highlights of your time as a mentor?
I remember one mentee at the end of our tenure, broke down in tears because she just did not want the relationship to end. She had grown from a place of anxiety and low expectation to growing in confidence. She said she wanted to convey her thanks using her cultural expression. The gesture so moving, I almost cried. I have also had the joy of being nominated for mentor award on a couple of occasions. In 2020, I got an award of excellence – all thanks to my wonderful mentees.
Could you share some of your key career/life advice?
- There is always a cause to celebrate.
- If I can get a student to reflect using one of the trusted models, I can almost guarantee they will go on to do well for themselves.
- I cannot guarantee you will get your dream job, but I always put great effort in making sure you are prepared for interviews by doing mock interviews and giving constructive feedback.
- See more opportunities in every event, no experience is a waste.
What would you say to someone who is thinking about becoming a professional mentor?
Being a mentor is a great idea. The benefits are bilateral. You will be amazed at how much you actually develop and grow as a person just by being a mentor. You will be part of a supportive community helping to make an investment in the next generation. Do not underestimate what you bring to the relationship.