Former SI mentors at Graduate School

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work as a mentor for other university students? We asked our former SI-leaders to give us the inside scoop and reflect on their experiences as mentors for their respective master’s programmes.

Overview

Background

The main job of an SI mentor is to lead student meetings and facilitate discussions within the group so that participants get a better handle on their given course work. This is no small feat. Not only does it require an intimate knowledge of the course material, comfort with public speaking, and a solid knack for organisation, but also good people skills, the ability to listen to the group and go with the flow, and a bright and fearless kind of optimism that gets students to open up and engage in debate. A good SI mentor is a chameleon who can switch seamlessly between different roles, from that of being a leader, to fellow peer, moderator, devil’s advocate, role model, and team captain, but again, never, ever, a teacher. Working as a mentor can be challenging, and sometimes downright exhausting, but most of those who have will also tell you that the experience is extremely rewarding.

Andrew Martin Niwagaba, Development Studies

I facilitated Supplementary Instruction for SIMP35, Theories and Issues in Development. The course focuses on development and sustainability in times of poverty, inequality and climate change. The hot topics for the programme are/were Poverty, Inequality and Intersectionality, Global Health – (Dietary paradoxes, Heat Stress, Sanitation), Climate Change – (Impacts, Responses and Politics) and the Working Poor. I tried to balance the focus on the different topics because of the interconnections that arise when dealing with Development issues.

The sessions flowed smoothly because the discussion is among students on an issue they have studied and acquired knowledge about. The difficulties/concerns start to manifest themselves as the reality of the final paper sets in. This is anticipated. The issue in this case rotates around identifying a research topic and research questions for the final paper. As the facilitator, I asked the participants who needed help with this to present their work to the group and get constructive feedback from their peers. We patiently went through the different ideas and allowed ourselves more time if it was needed. It turned out that the feedback was helpful.

A typical SI session began with hours of preparations for the session in the library. I made it a point to prepare for the sessions and developed a coordinated plan with a clear idea on the topic a particular session was to focus on, and the instructional strategies to ease the facilitation of the session. The sessions always begun after the academic quarter and we had a break at the end of the hour (if the participants wanted it). I always made sure that I was at the venue 15 minutes before the session to arrange the room. The room setting/sitting arrangement is important because these sessions are informal with no hierarchies and it is important that we interact as equals/students.

Once the session was underway, I would then go on to welcome the students, emphasise that the session was an informal one and encourage the student to feel free to participate. I also took time to remind them that there was no wrong or right answer, and that our main objective was to try and understand the course content. I would allow for a brief introduction of the participants in the interest of those attending for the first time.

I would first engage the students to give a critical reflection of the topic basing on the knowledge they acquired in class and then continue to ask questions that relate to the topic and the course in general as a facilitator. This provided space to the participants to engage and do the talking.

I tried to encourage teamwork and collaborative learning throughout the session, gave each one of the participants’ equal opportunity to speak, ask questions and respond to other participants’ questions. At the end of the session, I would thank the participants for their contributions, announce the following SI session and wish them a good day.

The course is interdisciplinary in nature and attracts students from different social science disciplines and diverse academic/university cultures. It is thus important for the students to have a platform and space to learn from each other and share experiences. This space is provided for by SI sessions.

At the individual level, I was presented with the opportunity to continue to grow my ability to communicate with others, facilitate discussions and actively listen to others thoughts and reasoning. Having the opportunity to actively listen to the participants discuss the course issues, sharing views and making meaning of their own knowledge and experiences serves as a memorable experience for me.

I also had the opportunity to inspire different individuals, help the participants learn from each other and improved my self-confidence. I gained a deeper understanding of the course by learning from the diverse views/perspectives of the participants.

Alex Eslick, Global Studies

In acting in the role of SI mentor, it immediately took me way, way back to when I started my journey here at the grandiose and perhaps intimidating environment of Graduate School. How did I feel, what were my troubles, where can I buy a cheap beer? How best could I aid these fresh faced and enthused scholars on the start of their path into the academic unknown. I believe I first tried to assuage anxieties with sharing my own feelings of incredulity, of inadequacy with my talents and knowledge, and that this was a first step, a time to investigate ideas, to work on a process that would see students through two years of study and eventually to face the behemoth that is a master thesis. 

As Global Studies is a panoply of broad and diverse areas of research, the majority of our sessions were focused on making connections between topics, readings, case studies and disciplines; mostly messy mind maps on the whiteboard, in an attempt to pull red strings together, to germinate ideas for arguments and assignments. Additionally, questions were raised on reading with purpose, the writing process, paper structure and how to produce those treasured balanced ‘elegant’ arguments.     

I would like to thank all those students who participated, I personally really enjoyed meeting those individuals and the invigorating discussions they produced. The sessions would have been nothing if it weren’t for those brave few. I hope in some way the time has helped and has aided those initial steps on what I am sure is to be a fruitful, stimulating and enjoyable time in these hallowed halls and beyond. 

Andrea del Carmen Tock Sican, Social Studies of Gender

One of my priorities was to encourage new students to engage with critical thinking and how they could develop their ideas using the course literature. I warned them against memorisation, individualistic thinking and being competition-driven since education is so much more than that – especially in Sweden. It can be a very rewarding experience when learning communities are in place and people can begin to produce knowledge.

For the course I was tutoring – SIMP25 – the main topics were intersectionality, post-colonialism, gender performativity and masculinities. Many times, the students had already grasped the contents of the topics but were still interested in discussing them further. The diversity of thinking was one of the things that I found more inspiring.

The session for me usually started one or two days before meeting the students: I would start by taking a look at that week’s topic and the reading list. I would then look at my notes and afterwards I would focus on the most important concepts and read those particular pages so I would have it “fresh.” After that I would think in different questions to start the conversation in case the students were shy or did not have any particular questions. On the meeting with the students we would usually have interesting conversations regarding the topics and if there was something in particular that was difficult, I would encourage everyone to try to solve it together.

Overall, being an SI tutor has been one of the most rewarding experiences during my master studies. Not only did I get to learn from the first year students and their perspectives, and reread and strengthen the knowledge acquired in my first year but also I got to make new friends.