Ross Reflections: What I’ve Learned From Being a Mentor and Mentee in Business School

Julia Duong (Right) with her mentee, Alexa Tran (Left)

WHAT I LEARNED FROM BEING A MENTEE

I’ll be the first to admit that I do not know everything, which is why I need a mentor myself. One of my mentors, Julia Duong, is someone whom I consider a big sister I never had. Julia graduated from Ross in 2019. I met her my freshman year through Asian Students in Business (ASIB), a student organization that she co-founded.

Julia is someone I consider a mentor because she is a couple of years older than me and is navigating corporate America as an Asian-American female. She’s also Vietnamese and our ethnicity is something that we always have bonded over.

Even though Julia graduated in 2019, we’ve still been able to maintain our friendship. When I was interning in New York City in the summer of 2019, I made an effort to hang out with Julia. We spent the 4th of July together at Coney Island and also explored Dumbo and Brooklyn.

My relationship with Julia really developed organically. I have never actually called her my mentor outright, but she is someone I know who I can always turn to for advice and someone I look up to.

I have learned a lot about myself and from others by being mentored by different people –   Julia included.

Julia Duong (Left) with her mentee, Alexa Tran (Right)

Here are three takeaways I gained from being a mentee:

1) How to Receive Feedback

Something that I have learned from being a mentee was how to become more receptive to feedback – both the good and bad.

Someone from my summer internship at Eli Lilly once told me that “Feedback is a gift, you can choose to take it or not.” This really stuck with me because I realized how true it is.

Example: My ideas for my final presentation at my internship were challenged. I thought I was approaching the presentation the “right” way, but my supervisor would challenge me and ask me why I thought my methodology was right. I had to defend my thinking because she saw things from my perspective but offered her own opinion and guidance on how to best approach the problem.

From that experience, I learned how to see things from a new perspective. At the end of the day, it was up to me whether I chose to listen to the feedback or not. I truly do think that feedback is a gift; I’ve realized that people are offering their opinion because they want to better you and your work.

2) How to Be Open-Minded

Getting feedback helps you reframe your thinking. There have been times where I would go into a meeting with one of my mentors and be dead set on my thoughts and opinion. After our meeting, my mentor would shed light on a new perspective or a different way to approach a problem.

In fact, I once shared with Julia that I really wanted to get a summer 2020 internship that was based in New York City because I was in love with the city. She told me that I should consider all of my options and be open to working in different cities. After all, I could always move to NYC in the future. I ended up listening to her advice and applied to roles in different cities and am happy with my decision to accept my internship offer at Eli Lilly in Indianapolis, where I will be returning full-time!

3) How to Be Vulnerable

I am going to be honest: vulnerability scares me. I do not like talking about my emotions or sharing with people who are not close to me. But I’ve learned that you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Being a mentee has taught me that to grow, you have to challenge yourself to open up and be vulnerable.

I have already confided in Julia how post-grad life scares and excites me at the same time. I am moving to a brand new city (Indianapolis), where I know absolutely no one. I’m scared about how I am going to meet people and make friends because I’ve lived in Ann Arbor my entire life. I am super comfortable here.

I shared these thoughts with Julia and she gave me advice on moving to a new city and meeting people. She encouraged me to sign up for community events or find hobbies where I’d meet people with similar interests.

I normally try to gloss over the negative thoughts I have or share tidbits of things that scare me, but opening up to Julia allowed us to have an honest conversation. She shared with me that she also had her own concerns and worries about post-grad life when she graduated.

Being vulnerable allows people to view you in a new light that oftentimes makes for a more sincere conversation and deepens the relationship.

Terence Huang (Left) and Simon Nejman (Right)

MENTORSHIP TAKEAWAYS

As you can see, I have really learned a lot from being a mentor and a mentee. Being on both sides of the spectrum has allowed me to become a better mentor and vice versa.

Here are the biggest takeaways that I have learned about mentorship:

1) It’s a rewarding experience on both sides

I always feel fulfilled after meetings whether I was the mentee or mentor. There’s a feeling of satisfaction that comes with learning something new or helping someone out.

2) Every meeting is a learning experience

What makes mentorship so great is that you really do learn something new from your mentor or mentee. Everyone has such diverse life experiences and perspectives, and you should take every meeting as a learning opportunity.

3) Relationships take time to develop

Relationships take time to grow organically; you cannot really force it. You’re not going to click with everyone you meet and that’s okay. It’s also important to sustain and maintain the relationship because relationships take work.

If you’ve made it this far, consider this your sign to cold message someone whose background you find interesting on LinkedIn and schedule that coffee chat to pick an alumni’s brain. I hope that you found this column insightful and that you are encouraged to become a mentor yourself or seek mentorship from someone!

My name is Alexa Tran and I am a senior at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business studying Business Administration with a minor in Religion. I was born and raised in Ann Arbor, so I knew that I always wanted to be a Wolverine! I am passionate about traveling, mentorship, iced coffee, and Trader Joe’s. I enjoy spending time with friends and family and managing my travel Instagram and blog: @adventuringwithalexa.

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