I was at the Global Health Education Consortium Board meeting in Chicago this weekend.
I was asked to talk about mentorship from a student perspective, and had planned to talk only about what we do in the Global Health Mentorship Project (GHMP) and present the options for formal and informal mentorship projects for GHEC to implement. Instead, due in part to a short conversation about our lack of personal mentors with my co-student board member Hanni, I talked about the precarious position of being a student leader in global health.
Who are student leaders in global health? Leaders are not made through their titles alone, their opinions or the events they attend. We are leaders when we cultivate cultures of learning within our peers, when we promote the actions and abilities of others, when we actively collaborate and work for quiet change rather than recognition. Student global health leaders look for windows through which to facilitate change; leaders take initiative; student leaders build up leadership in others so that we are actually serving global health rather than sustaining bureaucracy, heirarchy and our own positions. Student leaders facilitate the voices of all students in the wider world of global health. By title I am called a leader in global health for students; by action and philosophy I try to be one and from my perspective, do not always succeed.
So how do student leaders find their feet? Unless you are naturally overconfident, it is impossible to routinely feel strong, directed and purposeful as a student global health leader. Perhaps it is not adviseable. There are many expectations made of you; you are a ‘representative’ for students in prominent world events. We decide to be wallflowers, or speak out when it feels imperative, and yet the situation is politically sensitive. The balance is fine.
Moreover, despite years of exposure, I am often lost in the ideology of global health, what works and what doesn’t, and what “we” should be doing. Who are “we”? Who is doing this global health work, and who is being ignored? What work is “good” work? What are the underlying assumptions about engaging in this work? How much is our work just talking (but in the wrong circles?)?
Students need mentorship in global health, but perhaps student leaders in global health need it the most. Unfortunately it is possible that we do not often receive true mentorship because of our leadership roles. This brings us to the question, what is a mentor?