In 2009, at the ripe old age of 24, Adedayo Akande found himself in a unique position: president of a medical university. He left his corporate job in America to lead the University of Health Sciences Antigua, a Caribbean-based school founded by his late father.
While his business background offered little direct experience in leading an academic institution, he listened to trusted mentors in academics and leadership to navigate the new role.
“When I was completing my doctorate, I had a great professor mentor who was actually a business professor. He serves on our board now today. He has meant a lot over the years for me, and I think being able to seek him out for advice about just general things has meant the world for me,” Akande tells Poets&Quants.
“Being in the position that I am in, most individuals are significantly older than me. At times, it’s almost like an inferiority complex when stepping into certain circles and I’m speaking to someone who’s been an academic for the past 40 years. The advice and the boost of confidence that he gives is very valuable to me.”
THE PROFESSOR/STUDENT MENTORSHIP
While a productive mentorship can develop from a variety of personal and professional relationships, undergraduate students have a unique opportunity to connect with experts at the earliest stages of their careers. Professors – particularly business school professors who often have close ties to industry – can help students tailor career goals to their strengths and interests, point out unique opportunities, and facilitate important connections to industry insiders.
But fostering a student-professor relationship takes more tact than asking, “Will you be my mentor?”
We recently spoke with Dr. Akande about the benefits of this type of mentorship and bridging the conversation to professors. During his tenure as chairman and president of University of Health Sciences Antigua, Akande led the school’s online transition during the pandemic and developed several international partnerships with hospitals, universities, and high schools creating pathways for interested students to pursue medicine.
Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
What does a healthy mentorship relationship look like to you?
I think a healthy mentorship is one that’s very transparent. Me being in the position that I am, I’ve always sought mentors that are not just necessarily more advanced career wise, but just those who complement my personality. I’m probably one of the youngest medical school presidents – that I know of anyway. Most of my peers are 60, 70 plus.
I’ve personally always had difficulty finding mentors who might complement my field of practice. I know sometimes individuals are looking for people who are maybe just at an advanced level of their specific career. And for me, that has never really been the case.
What are the benefits of a strong professor/student mentorship relationship, particularly for undergrads?
I think from an undergraduate standpoint, one of the benefits is that there’s just someone providing some direction. As an undergrad, I can tell you right now, I used to bounce around from this, to this, to this, to that. Somebody who can provide some realistic directions and attainable things that you can consider is probably the biggest benefit for an undergraduate student.
Obviously, once you get to medical school or another advanced program, you have more of an idea of what you’re trying to do, at least we hope. For undergrads, it’s perhaps someone to help keep a level head and make sure your goals are realistic and attainable.
How do you suggest undergrads go about finding a suitable professor mentorship? How should they approach them?
In my experience, it is best to let the relationship form organically. I guess you can just take a shot in the dark and ask a professor to be your mentor, but I don’t think it’s as effective an approach.
In undergrad, I didn’t have a problem reaching out to professors to ask for help or for some time to pick their brain about X, Y, or Z. I think it’s helpful to befriend professors on those terms and let the relationship develop from there.
What about students who may feel a little intimidated to reach out to their professors?
Professors are people who are highly trained and knowledgeable in their fields. The vast majority will be glad to explain something further if you ask. I mean, if not you probably shouldn’t be seeking a mentorship relationship with them. But the average person will be happy to take time to share their knowledge and continue an organic relationship with you. Next thing you know, you have a wonderful relationship and you can take the next step as having a person as a mentor.
Professors can have hundreds of students in a semester. What advice do you have for students about respecting professors time while also getting meaningful feedback from the relationship?
One of the biggest things if you’re going to pursue a mentorship with a professor, be at least somewhat knowledgeable of what you’re after – think about your goals and what you’re trying to achieve. That can help direct your questions and respect the professor’s time. It can be somewhat annoying to be an expert in a field and be approached about something when the person has no idea of the subject.
If you’re in their class, you can get a feel for how the professor thinks and talks, and you can engage with them accordingly. Don’t just engage with a lot of superficial questions. Be well versed on the subject you’re asking about, your own goals, and exactly what you’re trying to have the mentor help you with.
What is a good way for students to approach a professor for career help or advice?
It kind of goes back to what I said earlier. I’m pretty often stuck in meetings, and so I have to respect my own time. I’d like others to respect it as well. So, being prepared with what you are trying to seek out from the professor is very important.
As well as having an idea of the knowledge base of the person you want to ask. For example, if you’re looking to start a bakery, I probably can’t advise you much. Understanding the knowledge base of the person you are approaching makes the conversation a lot easier and the person more willing to help.
Do you have any advice for effectively using the mentorship relationship to its full potential?
I guess the main advice would probably be from a medical school standpoint, but it’s true for other disciplines as well. From what I’ve seen with our faculty and students, we are here for you long after you graduate. You rely on your school throughout your career. I mean, we still provide recommendations for students who have graduated in the ‘80s. You’re always connected to your school.
So from a student standpoint, continuing that relationship is more important than anything. These people are writing recommendations for you, they’re advising, some of them continue to help you navigate your career as well.
Keeping an open communication is very important. In our program, for example, students only spend two years in Antigua before they go to the hospitals and then they go through residency, etc. Those initial two years, the relationships that you create could and should last throughout your entire medical career.
As you’ve advanced in your career, have you been approached by people younger or less experienced looking for mentorship?
Yes, people have approached me, not so much students, but individuals outside of my organization from more of a business standpoint. A lot of times those individuals are more or less kind of my age or slightly younger, just because the position I’m in is rather unique.
I’m always more than happy to share any insights or knowledge, and help them advance their own careers as best as I can.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Particularly in the medical field, but it would apply somewhat to business education as well, the human interaction a mentorship relationship can provide is very important. Medicine is very science based, and it requires intensive study. Students aren’t necessarily always the most socialized people. Having a mentor really can add more of a human side to it.
I think that’s critical in terms of developing emotional intelligence, showing compassion and empathy, etc. Just your interaction with a mentor, who you respect, I think helps build that as well.
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