The power of mentorship and collaborative learning: a reflection

Chloe Zivot-Headshot

by Chloe Zivot

CCGH and the GHSYP Summit were both really positive experiences, and if asked I could write a post five times this length, rambling on about all the aspects of the events that I enjoyed. Yet, I am a big believer in the importance of ‘the take-home message’. As someone with a million scattered thoughts and way more questions than I have answers, the take-home message is, for me, an important learning/life tool. Whether it is after a meeting, a conference, or even the odd (botched) social interaction, I find it useful to reflect on my main takeaway and to commit it to memory as I move forward in my life and degree. So, for the purposes of this blog post I want to share my take-home message from 2019’s CCGH and GHSYP Summit with all of you. For me, this was the importance and power of mentorship and collaborative learning in academia.

Cole Heasley and Chloe Zivot at the GHSYPS Summit in Ottawa, October 2019.

Cole Heasley and Chloe Zivot at the GHSYPS Summit in Ottawa, October 2019.

I had the unique opportunity of starting my PhD last September (2018), directly after my finishing my undergrad. Further, in a circumstance that often feels surreal, I have transitioned from undergrad mentee to PhD mentor (for which I more often than not feel totally unqualified for) in under two years. I have had the honour and pleasure of working with the world’s best undergraduate research assistant, Cole, for the past six months and we attended CCGH and GHSYP together to present our upcoming scoping review. So, to find myself in the grey- simultaneously a mentee and a mentor- is an interesting and eye-opening experience. On the one hand, I still get nervous talking to established academics and other officials whose positions and accomplishments I admire (which is almost everyone when you are a grad student). I feel privileged and grateful when these people make time to share advice and experiences with me as someone preparing to start a career in Global Health. On the other hand, whenever Cole expresses thanks for my supposed mentorship, I respond awkwardly with a sense of shock because, in my mind at least, I have done very little, behaved as I would with anyone else. Herein lies a very important takeaway: while we are acutely aware that we look up to others, we forget others look up to us.

How does this connect specifically to CCGH and GHSYP? In the CCGH opening plenary, the audience was explicitly reminded to make time for the young people in the audience, to offer advice and mentorship. I really appreciated this statement and found it powerful, but couldn’t pin point why at the time. I now realize that it comes down to the process described above. This statement reminded established academics and professionals that they are looked up to: what to them may seem like an innocuous conversation with an undergrad/ master’s/PhD student may mean a lot to that student, may change their research program or even future trajectory. Whether it was due to this statement or just the wonderful selection of people at the conference, I perceived a much more inclusive environment at CCGH than I have at other conferences. I routinely observed interactions whereby those with much experience and expertise engaged actively with those just starting out. Further, I think this statement created space for young people to feel comfortable approaching these experts to seek their opinions and advice (I know I for one sweat through my blazer much less than at past conferences…). This spirit of inclusivity at CCGH 2019 meant a lot to me, and I am sure to others as well. Finally, I think it important to recognize that this process of mentorship has a ripple effect.

With mentorship and encouragement, young people are inspired and reinvigorated. As a result, we are able to give more to our peers and them to our own work, fostering a spirit and process of collaborative learning such as that observed at GHSYP Summit. At this wonderful event, I observed energized young people share the best of themselves with others in the spirit of co-learning. I was asked questions about my own research that I hadn’t thought to ask myself, and for this am super grateful. Additionally, to be provided ample mentorship role models for us (as future professionals) as we move along in our own careers. One day down the road (maybe at CCGH 2029 or 2039), we will remember the time that we were mentored at CCGH 2019 and as a result spend that extra ten minutes talking to a young person about how to achieve their goals or advance or improve their own research. In doing so, we not only support young people in the Global Health community, but also ensure the successful future of Global Health research and efforts themselves.

Chloe Zivot-HeadshotChloe Zivot is in the second year of her PhD in Population Medicine and International Development at the University of Guelph, pursuing her doctoral research in the field of Public Health. Her research interests include global health, maternal and child health, gender, and forced migration, particularly in relation to barriers and pathways to family wellbeing. Chloe is committed to community-engaged and participatory research approaches and looks forward to engaging with these processes further during her PhD. For her doctoral research, Chloe will be partnering with service providers across Canada to investigate determinants of household wellbeing during refugee resettlement, with a particular focus on the impact of home-based social programming on gender dynamics, parental agency, and perceived household wellbeing.