The Most Personal Instruction Possible
This summer I have the privilege of having not just one, but two different mentors. They’re both through the same program, the Veterinary Entrepreneurship Academy, but very different.
The Veterinary Entrepreneurship Academy is a program designed to introduce veterinary students to the world of innovation within the veterinary industry. Students get matched with mentors trying to build new technologies and work with them over the summer. We also participate in a business education curriculum designed around start-up companies and their unique business considerations. This curriculum is presented through webinars twice per week and is discussion oriented, with class participation being almost required. The paired mentoring experience has given me some unique perspectives on the advantages of one-on-one mentoring.
The VEA is all about giving young veterinarians the tools to be successful entrepreneurs. The difficulty with this is that entrepreneurship has a massive scope. There is no way that a set of instructions for one specific business can be used for most other businesses. To compensate for this, the VEA presents a lot of information from a 40,000 foot view – the students receive very broad instructions. We, the students, filter that information though the specific startup we’re working with, but the information is still delivered in broad strokes. Contrasting this, the mentorship I receive from my matched veterinarian is very specific to my goals. We talk about things I’m directly interested in and I learn valuable, specific information. We were talking about an idea I have for a new product in veterinary medicine the other day. Not only did he tell me about what experience he had in the area, but he also put me in direct contact with someone who does more work in that field. I learned his perspectives on what I’m interested in, which gave me valuable insights into how I could apply my idea to a wider audience. I couldn’t have gotten that from a group environment. If there was even one more mentee in the conversation, I may not have gotten the time from my mentor to delve as deep into my idea.
When I talk to my mentor, it’s a lot easier to voice opposition. There is always a level of respect and deference, but I have a much more personal relationship with my mentor. Not only is it easier to disagree with one person, but after the first time you disagree with someone, it’s often easier to do it again. That means I get to better flesh out my ideas and learn more about them. Instead of just hearing that they’re wrong, I learn how they don’t necessarily work. Instead of hearing that they’re right, I learn about the best parts of my ideas and how to make them better. When in any larger group, it takes a lot more energy to be the voice of dissent. Disagreeing with someone naturally takes more effort than agreeing – disagreement is conflict, which is distasteful. Often when I disagree with someone group discussion, someone else will voice a similar idea that agrees with the first before I speak up. After the second person agrees, it becomes much more difficult to speak up because now I’m inviting conflict with more people. I know I probably should speak up and add to the discussion, but it is much more difficult to disagree with two people than one person. Even when I’m working myself up to speak, other people will chime in agreeing with the first two. The more people who I’m trying to disagree with, the more difficult it is to speak up.
Lectures are great and absolutely necessary – you need the 40,000 foot view to even start to think about something. Having a mentor in conjunction with that a great way to have the material actually stick. You get to learn the overarching theory and then have tailored advice for how that material will apply to your desired career path. This is so much more than simple tutoring – a tutor prepares you for a test. A mentor prepares you for real life.