Hilary Murdoch (Capell) a retired Consultant Physician and Rheumatologist (Glasgow Royal Infirmary) and emeritus honorary professor of medicine (Glasgow University) became a mentor in 2010. Her husband saw an advert for the Intergenerational Mentoring Network in the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of Strathclyde, they both applied, were assigned mentees, and have been with the network ever since.
She currently has two S5 assigned mentees and one S6 but has worked with 10 young people over the past seven years. Several of her mentees are nearing completion of their degrees. She still hears from them as they get in touch to say hello or ask if she can help them with references, placements, and voluntary work. While most mentoring activities take place during S5, Hilary describes the mentoring relationship as a continuing one – mentees still require support over time but their needs change .
As a mentor, she is particularly interested in trying to help pupils hoping to study competitive subjects such as medicine or dentistry, or those considering associated university courses or professions allied to medicine, or careers in science.
When she first became a mentor she did not have any idea what was expected of her (and nor did her mentee!). They learnt together about their roles – it was difficult to know what the mentee really needed at the beginning. She considers there is no recipe for being a mentor and describes mentoring as sometimes being like practising medicine where much depends on the individual – it is often necessary to think and try again and again until the best path becomes clear.
Over time, she has realised that her role as a mentor essentially means being someone who listens, guides, and provides structure. She advises that, “You just have to be interested. Listen to what support the pupils need, try to work towards a goal, and have another plan in mind in case that goal can’t be met.”
LIFE AS A MENTOR
Hilary enjoys seeing the level of growth that can be achieved with pupils starting in S5 and as they go through university. “They grow a lot in that time. It’s good fun.” She has mentored medical professionals such as junior medical staff and consultants in the past but said this mentoring experience is different because the mentees are younger. “Some are ambitious others are scared and my role is to see if there’s something positive we can do to help them. Sometimes there isn’t but most of the time there is.”
There is never a typical week and face to face mentoring sessions depend on the schedule of the mentor and mentee. They usually meet for a minimum of one hour but this is flexible. Most correspondence is done through email, occasionally by text messages.
She prepares for mentoring sessions to provide some structure. Time is spent discussing subjects, grades, and paths to university but if needed there might be a focus on tutoring to help achieve the required grades. She particularly enjoys poetry and time spent helping pupils explore the poems they are covering in class. While they tend to spend a lot of time learning poems by heart or analysing them in a systematic way she tries to create a space where time can be spent enjoying and thinking about them. These opportunities for one-to-one discussion increase their broader understanding, something which they may not have time for in class. They also read relevant articles from a broadsheet together which has many benefits, and mentees gradually become more confident.
Hilary and her mentee, Louise Comrie, share their experience of working together with Radio 4.
She supports pupils in several ways. First of all, pupils need to work on their grades and decide what degree programmes they would be able to apply for. Next she can support her mentees with subjects such as English and Biology but sometimes asks other mentors like her husband to offer support in subjects such as Maths and French. For mentees interested in medicine, she collects relevant health-related newspaper articles throughout the week to read and discuss with them in order to develop their knowledge of the current major topics and issues that may come up in admissions interviews.
Beyond discussing homework, exams, and applications, she likes to ask pupils about their hobbies and interests. Some of her mentees are interested in dancing, gymnastics, or art. Sometimes mentees will show a video or picture of what they have been doing or she will go along to see a piece of their work that is on display. It is good to discuss things that are not so academic and show an interest in their lives. Encouraging pupils to do something beyond studying and working is important so that they have something else to focus on when they have disappointments or obstacles in their way.
Hilary enjoys mentoring and has mostly had good experiences over the years but says new mentors should be prepared for the fact that, “Sometimes mentees are unhappy and things will dip. It’s not a vanity project for you. It’s a way of trying to help them.” As with any relationship, there will be ups and downs but with mentoring, the mentor should try to make the time worthwhile for mentees or they won’t turn up. As mentioned above, having a structure for meetings is useful but sometimes the mentee will just need you to listen and perhaps talk through ideas of what to do next to best meet their needs.
MENTORING FOR MEDICINE
While it may be hard enough to get into university, for pupils from schools where they may be the first in their families to go to university, meeting the entry requirements for competitive courses such as medicine can be a real challenge. Mentors with a medical background can be an important catalyst in arranging crucial activities to support pupils in this process.
Working with students on improving their coursework and grades and identifying areas where they may need extra support is only one aspect. If pupils are achieving the required grades, they then need to prepare for the UK Clinical Aptitude Test (UKCAT) used in the selection process by UK medical and dental schools. Pupils must obtain a particularly high grade to be competitive and are given an opportunity to practice in exam conditions.
Pupils must also perform well in the rigorous admissions interviews conducted by most universities. She has therefore organised mock interviews for some mentees to develop their confidence in such a highly pressurised situation. Creating authentic experiences gives pupils the chance to benefit from constructive feedback from Hilary and medical colleagues who kindly agree to help conduct the interviews. Pupils can then reflect on this feedback and work on improving for the real interviews and hopefully stand a better chance of performing well.
Mentee, Omolade, participates in mock admissions interviews for medicine arranged by Hilary.
It is also necessary for pupils to gain some work experience which is difficult to arrange if pupils have no contacts in the field. Hilary tries to tailor work experience according to the specific medical interests of pupils or more general interests if they are not yet sure. Mentors are essential in brokering work experience for pupils who would not have the same network of contacts across a range of medical environments.
Overall, she uses her experience and connections to support the preparatory work that is needed to improve the chance of success in course applications. Hilary says, “What pupils really need is confidence,” and the preparatory work helps students to develop that confidence.
If pupils do not manage to achieve the required grades for certain courses, she helps them to realise what their plan B or plan C might look like and make sure they know they shouldn’t give up as there are plenty of other paths. She stressed the importance of mentors being able to inform pupils about alternatives.
INTRODUCING OTHERS TO THE NETWORK
As well as mentoring, Hilary has been involved in strengthening the development of the project. She has helped recruit a number of mentors and was recently asked to speak to a group of medical staff in the west of Scotland consisting of professionals from different backgrounds including physios, nurses, and doctors. Several colleagues have helped organise work experience opportunities for mentees and were interested in hearing more about the project. The response was very positive and some who are due to retire in the next 5 years have expressed an interest in becoming mentors – the commitment of regular time for mentoring is better suited to retirees rather than those still working long hours.
Her motivation for her continued role as a mentor with the Intergenerational Mentoring Network, is “To help develop the many talented young people in areas where social deprivation or lack of family experience prevent them from realising their full potential. If we don’t help them develop they, their families, and all of society lose out.”
She recognises the need to talk pupils through aspects that their parents may not be informed of such as the benefits of university rather than going straight into a job and the possibility of going through the process of applying to university and being successful.
She understands how hard it is to go from high school to university without having guidance. While her own parents were very supportive of her, they had left school at age 13 and did not have the information needed about attending university. From her year at secondary school, only 3 pupils succeeded in starting a university career and she had to find her own way. To obtain the information she needed, she got on the bus to university with her friend and went looking for it. She stresses that friendship groups were very important to her at the time for support, and this is still true for pupils in deprived areas.
While university is a very different world she grew to love it and this has been true of all her mentees to date. She thinks she would have liked to have had a mentor in her early years.
Hilary usually mentors students from Springburn Academy and explained that her initial motivation was based on the idea of helping to create a ripple effect where the young people she mentored would go on to university and their friends and friends’ mothers would see that and perhaps talk and wonder: “If they can do it then why can’t I/my child?”
While the project may not reach all pupils, Hilary says we can think of the mentees who go on to university as an important starting point. “It’s a little injection of positivity in areas which are struggling.” She draws parallels between her working and mentoring life and says, “It’s the same as patients, you can’t cure them all but you can make things a bit better and that has an effect.”
If you are interested in making mentoring a part of your life, please get in touch and help continue the work of our network in communities throughout Glasgow.