UX Mentorship: Lessons Learned

Last November, I volunteered to help coordinate UXPA MN’s first mentorship program (along with my fantastic co-coordinator and co-UXPA MN board member, Kristen). As an organization, mentorship was something that had been in discussion for a long time. User experience is a relatively new discipline, with lots Venn diagram-esque crossover into more established disciplines ranging from information architecture to technical communication to library science. Burgeoning UX programs are popping up in higher education, but with many job postings requiring multiple years of experience (or at least, experience within a certain field, like healthcare, technology, etc), it can be challenging for new grads or those who want to move into UX to know how to best focus their efforts.

The Nerdery has an apprentice program aimed toward grooming the next generation of UXers; ours was designed to be a little less grooming, a little more…well, we left it up to each pair to determine. We performed *matchmaking* mentors and mentees; organized milestones at very junctures and worked with Metropolitan State’s tech comm / UX program facilitators, who conducted surveys and their own research to help inform their program; acted as main contacts for issues mentors and mentees; etc.

We learned a lot through the process, and came up with solutions and suggestions for anyone looking to put together a similar kind of program. Some of the ideas–like asking on the application for mentor/mentee if they prefer a same-sex match, for example–were more administrative. Here are a few of the larger themes that came out in person interviews, surveys, and informal chats/observations:

  • Although we willingly took it on on top of normal board duties, it turned out to require a much larger effort than initially expected. Kristin and I both participated as mentors on top of organization which, while helpful to help understand the dynamics of the program more fully, also added to the workload. There was also a concern that, since we were both mentors, mentees might not feel fully comfortable coming to us. To address this, we suggest that mentorship is ran by a committee–of past mentors and mentees–to help divide up the workload and also serve as points of contact.
  • Both mentors and mentees wanted more opportunities to interact with each other… as a group, not just with their respective mentor/mentee. We also found that there were varying levels of commitment from folks; many mentors looked to the mentees to really set the agenda, but mentees didn’t always know the right questions to ask, and so on. We put out the idea of running two types of programs: one more informal mentorship, which would be more meet-up style; and a smaller, more targeted formal mentorship with assigned pairs and more structure with a final outcome.
  • While UXPA MN helped cover the costs of the kick off and the wrap up (with help from some awesome sponsors) and we drew from our community for the program, there were concerns that there wasn’t enough connection to UXPA MN. Hosting meet ups that tie directly to our monthly meetings, as well as requiring membership this time around, may help increase the connection.

Overall, the program received great reviews and kudos from participants and supporters alike, but there’s always room for improvement. Kristin and I will be chatting about our experiences more fully at the summer social in July as well; share your comments and/or ideas there or in the comments!

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