The entire community of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Lisbon is undergoing adaptation. Lecturers and staff prepare everything so that the academic year that is about to start is, with all the existing and necessary differences and constraints, as normal as possible for those who are the reason for the existence of this faculty, the students.
And while many deal with the preparations, so that, academically, everything is done in the best way, there is a project, Mentoring, which wants to welcome new students with open arms from the beginning, ensuring that they are not left helpless emotionally and psychologically.
Via Zoom, we met the new Mentoring scholarship holder, João Lopes, a year 3 student who monitors the project closely and a great enthusiast of this project since he joined the FMUL. We wanted to know what he thinks about the new challenges that await him in the Mentoring project and the importance of being part of this initiative.
We also interviewed Rita Sobral, from the Student Support Office, in which this project is inserted, who told us about the various challenges, the ideas of integration between projects and everything she has done and wants to accomplish this year.
João, what made you want to be a Mentoring scholarship holder?
João: My application to a Mentoring scholarship arose from the enormous desire that I have to contribute to the integration of our students in our Faculty, especially given the current situation, with the consequences that we all know. Also because I believe that full integration into the academic and social environment of the Faculty is undoubtedly essential to guarantee a successful academic path for all who study here. The Mentoring project has a role in the beginning of the academic life of all of our students and that is why it is challenging and aroused my interest from an early age. As I joined the 6th edition's organizing committee, I wanted to continue. It was important to implement, in practice, some ideas that were designed for the 6th edition and which, due to the pandemic, could not be carried out. The time has come to put them into practice. In addition, if entering our Faculty is a choice of each of the candidates, the reasons for their permanence are much based on the activities and projects that are conducted, which is why I highlight the importance of Mentoring. FMUL attracts students for its institutional image, for its excellent curriculum, for the fact that it has professors that are renowned nationally and internationally, and for being a secular institution closely associated with Santa Maria hospital. On the other hand, extra activities are important for students, as well as those conducted in the Mentoring project, which are very integrating and contribute to the personal growth and success of each student.
Rita: All scholarship students were already members of the organizing committee, and this shows their commitment. Being involved in the organization and wanting to participate with greater responsibility in the following year attests this project’s impact.
This idea of continuity is interesting. João, what new challenges do you think you will have?
João: There is a legacy that we have inherited, because there is a great desire to innovate, to reach a growing target audience and ensure that we are always able to involve new students. This year, and given the current situation, the biggest challenge will be to rethink all Mentoring activities and add another challenge, which is to maintain the quality of the project. One of the lessons we can learn from this pandemic is our ability to reinvent, to think, to change, to ensure that what we do is done well and that the expectations of our participants are not disappointed. I think that our work is not only the result of the coordinator's will, but of the entire team, which is excellent, all of them very motivated to make a difference and guarantee the quality of the project. We have the last sessions of the Big Mentoring Theory, an activity aimed at our mentors, to prepare them to receive their mentees, an activity conducted exclusively online, and which in the past was always face-to-face. This forced us to rethink dynamics, but I believe we have managed to make it a success. We conducted an exhaustive evaluation survey, precisely because our goal is to improve and we have received very good feedback in general, and even if we compare this online version with the face-to-face version, I notice a huge desire on the part of our students to receive the new ones. This year we closed the application process with 366 mentors, the highest number obtained in a Mentoring edition. In this Big Mentoring Theory activity, we had 180 vacancies that were taken up two days before the deadline, which shows the willingness to guarantee to those who arrive the transition from secondary education to higher education, especially this year that is so atypical.
And you, as a person and as a student, what do you feel you can gain, what does it give you?
João: I really believe in this project and that it makes a difference. It made a difference in my life and that was one of the main motivations. I believe in this way of doing Mentoring. And, as a student, I think it will necessarily give me greater time and team management skills, also greater communication skills, because the project requires it. As a person, I feel greater desire to help and have the satisfaction of having made a difference, through a project that is important to me, helping to better include those who join my Faculty. In Big Mentoring Theory, we always ask for testimonials and there is a phrase that I highlight: "being part of Mentoring is to make the mentees feel at home in less than a week" (Watch the video of the testimonials here).
This sentence is impressive and a challenge, for sure... Rita, in relation to the office's work, what challenges do you face?
Rita: Mentoring, at this moment, is undergoing a revolution. We have to plan different scenarios and Mentoring Day, which we always plan in person. This time, it will have online activities. We do not know yet how long it will take, but it will maintain the same objectives: support integration, be the first home, the first face. We want new students to become part of volunteer mentors, including the first official email to be assigned to them is that of the mentor. We are preparing several activities, Mentors' Day, to foster the creation of a spirit of mutual help throughout the year. Until now, this whole circuit was conducted via teambuilding, with other integrated activities, and now it has gone online. This has advantages and disadvantages. Whereas in the past we would never have more than 40 mentors, because we lost so much of the dynamics and logistical apparatus, now we reinforce communication, leadership and time management training activities and film the mentors' testimonials for other mentors. It was motivating, especially for those who are mentors for the first time and are eager to share what they learned in the previous year, and our mentors are well aware of the added responsibility this year. In addition, we have soft skills workshops throughout the year, although the online advantage is that we can invite external people and engage in other topics. Mentoring day was a big day, we were included in the introduction week, when mentors and mentees did a treasure hunt. This year we will have to take on groups of two mentors and two mentees, so the occasion for meeting new colleagues will not happen. In addition, we always have other types of activities. This year we are thinking about continuing something that we started last semester, which are the fortnightly challenges, between mentor and mentee.
In addition, the mentor also has the role of detecting integration problems and other possible weaknesses that should be brought to our attention, to enable us to act accordingly. It is at this point that there is collaborative work between us and Espaço S.
Mentors play a reference role for mentees throughout the year and an articulation role.
Rita: Yes, and there is a continuous line between the various organizing committees. I want to start working on the attitude of the Office, there is Espaço S, Solvin’it and Mentoring, but I want to create a family that has its various groups.
Speaking of family, do you think that other types of more aggregating activities will be needed, with the situation we are experiencing?
Rita: Currently, there are many students who have a focus on studying outside home. There was a ritual of studying outside home and that they could make study groups at FMUL, and answer questions. Now, many will be forced to confinement at home, either with housemates or in a family environment, and all personal time management is very difficult. This time management soft skill is very important. In one of the workshops we are preparing, we challenged the Espaço S team to reproduce a workshop that had already been done with relaxation techniques. “How can I find time to be with me and to organize myself?”, Or “How can I be a doctor without practicing?” These are examples of questions that will make clinical teaching a greater challenge. Here, the role of the office will involve providing psychological support. We have to prepare an online scenario, and if this model improves, we can move on to another work scheme. For now, we don't know, we have to live with uncertainty and be ready to change plans from one moment to the next.
João: Thinking of the mentees who join the Faculty, we, students, always live inside the Faculty, many from 8 am to 8 pm. This fostered contact among all, promoted personal fulfilment and gaining new friends, thus facilitating integration. With this online transition of many classes, especially the theoretical ones, and even if they have face-to-face classes, soon after the students have to leave the campus because others will come to take classes. The measures created to establish greater security for students lead to reduced contact at personal and exchange levels. Basically, having friends, which was “normal” and facilitated integration, will be conditioned. This is the main challenge: human relations and fighting so that they will not be impoverished. As on Mentoring Day, when people met, I met people with whom I still speak today, they are contacts we make, so we do not want to end these actions. Even in small numbers, it will be better than having nothing. We will facilitate human relations.
Rita: One of the goals of Mentoring is to enhance networking. There were several activities already organized by the AEFML and supported by Mentoring that established contact. Now everything is more restricted, very focused on the classroom. Therefore, the mentors will have a very important role and this makes everyone very willing to provide a better entry into the Faculty, but also very aware of the challenges of this moment. Mentoring is a reference project that has expanded out of doors. We are seen as a model, we have good practices and we want to continue this work.
Thanks to the entire Mentoring project team and the Student Support Office for all the work done. If you want to know more about their activities, check the projects of our Student Support Office and keep up to date with all the news.