On mentorship

Being a mentor is a not an easy thing. There are a lot of things that a mentor has to do, beyond imparting knowledge. To mentor is to mould and sculpt - to recognize there is a permanence to the teaching for better or worse. One of those things is choosing when to intervene as a mentor, and to fix the mess created by your student. My favorite description of the importance of this intervention is captured in a novel by Arthur Hailey, titled Airport. One of the pages has a story about an air traffic controller training a new recruit -

"George Wallace nodded and edged closer to the radarscope. He was in his mid-twenties, had been a trainee for almost two years; before that, he had served an enlistment in the U. S. Air Force. Wallace had already shown himself to have an alert, quick mind, plus the ability not to become rattled under tension. In one more week he would be a qualified controller, though for practical purposes he was fully trained now. Deliberately, Keith allowed the spacing between an American Airlines BAC-400 and a National 727 to become less, than it should be; he was ready to trasmit quick instructions if the closure became critical. George Wallace spotted the condition at once, and warned Keith, who corrected it. That kind of firsthand exercise was the only sure way the ability of a new controller could be gauged. Similarly, when a trainee was at the scope himself, and got into difficulties, he had to be given the chance to show resourcefulness and sort the situation out unaided. At such moments, the instructing controller was obliged to sit back, with clenched hands, and sweat. Someone had once described it as, "hanging on a brick wall by your fingernails." When to intervene or take over was a critical decision, not to be made too early or too late. If the instructor did take over, the trainee's confidence might be permanently undermined, and a potentially a good controller lost."

I have always had such mentors who knew when to step in. And to that, I owe them a lifetime of gratitude.