The Student Mentor Selection Saga

The Institute Student Mentorship Programme was started with the objective of enabling constructive and positive interaction and mentorship of freshmen, by their seniors. Simply, mentors are people who have been there, done that and now it is their duty to help freshmen settle into their new surroundings. We interviewed Jhonny Jha, one of the two Mentor Heads of the ISMP in to throw some light on the mentor selection procedure.

Process commences with the ex-mentors submitting recommendations of juniors capable of being good mentors in their opinion. After this, nominations are invited from interested third and fourth year students. The applicants are required to submit an SOP and answer a few other questions such as their past experience with mentoring and the qualities that they feel are essential for a mentor.

Reviews and Interview:
Begin phase 2, a comprehensive review process is carried out. Reviews are taken from people from different groups that the candidate is a part of. Usually, all persons who have worked closely with and/or interact frequently with the candidate are reviewed. During the interview, candidates are also asked for a review of their peers that have applied. Almost all of the candidates that apply to become mentors are interviewed. Only cases that have received significantly poor reviews from most sources are screened out before the interview stage. The interview mainly comprises questions based on responses to questions in the nomination form and a few case discussions. It’s aimed at gauging the candidate communication skills, empathy, attitude and behavioural traits.

Finally based on 3 factors – the reviews, application and interview , each person is awarded a score. The ISMP heads along with their faculty coordinator decide a suitable cut-off score required to be satisfied of selection. If and only if the number of third year candidates that get screened through falls short of the required number, the sophomores are selected as mentors.
Sophomore candidates are considered for interview only on recommendation by an ex-mentor. Free
nominations are not invited. For 2nd time mentors, fresh reviews are taken from co-mentors, peers and mentees, however there is no interview. There have been instances where a mentor has not been re-appointed for a second time.

Right to Information:
Details of this entire selection procedure are available with the ISMP faculty co-ordinator – Professor Prabhu, and can be reviewed by any student. For obvious reasons the student reviews are not open to public perusal.

VIEW: I believe that the selection procedure for Institute Student Mentors is quite fundamentally flawed. A lot of good people have not become mentors without any obviously glaring reasons.
COUNTERVIEW: At a fundamental level, every candidate is ‘good’ but there are certain traits which are valued more than others while selecting a mentor. This by no means undermines the goodness of those not selected.
Besides, the selection procedure is open for all to see. ‘Your’ thinking that some ‘good’ person is ‘deserving’, without actually comparing with others, does not make him or her a suitable candidate.

I am entitled to a view, aren’t I?
Yes, but most importantly, notwithstanding what Mentor Coordinators or you think, the impression of a candidate amongst his peers and at a larger level, the institute determines if he will be respected by his to be mentees. We have to understand that ISMP is like a glass house. Even if a single mentor, who is not respected by his peers, is a part of the organization, then there is a fair chance that his mentees would not respect him and in turn the mentor program.

Anyway, what skills do you think a decent mentor must possess?
Qualities such as empathy, good ethics, and an accessible and multi-faceted personality are definitely are most essential. That apart, a blemish free record, without any disciplinary action, behavioral problems and habits, is a must. There is no CPI criterion; however an inclination towards academics is favorable.

I have two basic doubts
a. Are you stating that no past mentor has ever had any questionable habits ever in his life?
b. What exactly is inclination towards academics, if it is not to be judged by an individual’s CPI?
a. To the best of our knowledge – YES
b. The CPI is undoubtedly one of the ways to judge a person’s academic inclination. In addition- a person’s attitude in lectures, his or her class interaction and attendance also are an important indication of how academically inclined a person is. Undoubtedly, peer reviews will give a very accurate opinion on all of the above. We believe that unless a mentor is himself academically inclined he/she will never truly emphasize on the importance of the above practices.

I do not believe the answer to (a) is true, but that is something I believe and cannot prove to you. So let us put things into perspective. As strikingly evident as it is from the description you have given me about your selection procedure, I see a lot of emphasis is being imposed upon the entire “Peer-Review” procedure.Yeah, obviously! You cannot get to know an individual in just half hour of an interview, right? He can easily con you; we want people whose peers have a good image of him, not just the ability to smooth talk his way through an interview.

Rest assured that even if you are someone who doesn’t interact much with anyone (seemingly not accessible or multi-faceted), but have maintained a good academic standing, you will most likely be interviewed. However, we expect a mentor to be approachable and outgoing in order to deal with 20 inquisitive freshmen and an even greater number of anxious parents and hence qualify as a suitable mentor candidate.

But, we do not disqualify you on the basis of poor reviews from other interviewed candidates. For people who are known to be an introvert, efforts are made to talk to his best friends, roommates, wing mates, lab batch mates and get to know more about them before a decision is made.

I have a genuine concern – the diverse set of people that you so confidently harp on about may not be as diverse as you think! You are telling me that the entire “reviews are taken from people from different groups that the candidate may be a part of” has in essence boiled down to some seniors who barely know me and a bunch of my so called peers who might not actually know what I am like as a person. Your claim that enough people have been asked about me, may or may not be entirely true, as you may have spoken to people that you “thought” represents a diverse enough set but in reality, do not.

Apart from this, I believe this process might lead to aggregation of mentors in some specific hostels and restricted to people with common interests. Why do I believe so, you might ask? It is because my hostel did not have as many seniors as mentors already, hence lesser people from that hostel were recommended initially.Aah! Quite contrary to what the general perception is, the list of peers that is reviewed is much more diverse than you could imagine. So let me detail it out for you.

The first step is to ask ex-mentors to send in recommendations of juniors they think could serve as mentors along with a reason. The application process is thrown open at the same time. This goes on for a month after which the applications are screened. Now, candidates are assorted department wise and hostel wise and their applications are reviewed. People who have not shown enthusiasm in filling in the application or who have blatantly copied the application from other sources are removed from the process.

Clarifying your second point, not getting recommended by any senior mentor does not put you on any lower a pedestal as compared to someone who has been. Both of these candidates will anyway be reviewed by the rest of their peers. This is just another reference point.

The review stage starts with the senior mentors being asked about feedback of people who they have known personally in some context. The next stage is to ask his department mates about his behavior and involvement in the department. The same procedure is followed for hostel mates, wing mates, colleagues in IBs, partners in technical projects, first year mentors, first year wing mates, current roommate(s), and friends, seniors/juniors/batch mates who know you through cultural activities/technical activities /other extra- curricular or co-curricular activities . So eventually, there is a set of at least 30–40 reviews for each candidate before a decision is taken.

For instance, if a particular senior brands you as “involved in questionable behavioral activities guy”, it is not the final verdict. We do not consider it in our opinion of the candidate till we verify the same behavior from multiple sources. If the review from multiple sources hold true, then you are the “involved in questionable behavioral activities guy” at least for mentor selection purposes. If the reviews are conflicting, we call you in person and try to figure out the reality.

Regarding your doubt that those being asked for reviews, might not be your chums – there is a very small chance that that might happen as the coordinators make sure that the reviews of your best friends, roommates and the group you hang out with are also taken to make the process fair and to get the best positive side of the applicant forward. Unless over 75% of those peers have a bad opinion about you, you will be called for an interview. Those that do not know you well enough are trusted to say so, hence in that way, not affecting your chances of becoming mentor in any way.

Well, I know cases wherein the peers who the applicant actually hung out with, weren’t asked for his reviews. Hence I stress on the point that – reviews may not always be as diverse or as sacrosanct as you paint them to be.

Also, I know several people who weren’t even called for the interview, and I find it extremely hard to believe that half the people who applied, all got poor reviews from multiple sources.

As evident from the discussion, the apparent fairness to an individual in the selection procedure depends on the faith he has in the extensive implementation of the peer review system. Maybe to believe in this system one really has to take a leap of faith in the people selecting the mentors. This “leap of faith” is not for me, especially since I do not buy some of the arguments you have put forth. Let us just agree to disagree then.

Well, you cannot possibly know whether reviews were collected from the group he/she hangs out with as they are extremely confidential and people would not like to discuss it with the candidate or with you. Again, I would like to stress that the reviews focus on certain traits and not the inherent goodness of the candidate. So it might be the case that a person did not get good reviews from his peers on the traits that were required.

With such an elaborate and fair procedure, I doubt that leap will be too long. Also, that leap of faith would involve not only the people part of the ISMP but the institute populace in general, as at the end of the day they are an active member of the entire process.