Jan 14, 2021

Learning from each other: how mentoring is a two-way street for personal and professional development

Equity and wellness, Our people
Yulia Lin and Rosemarie Tremblay-LeMay

Dr. Yulia Lin is the Division Head of Transfusion Medicine & Tissue Bank at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and Associate Professor in the Department of Laboratory Medicine & Pathobiology (LMP) in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine.

She was recently awarded LMP’s Outstanding Mentor Award, nominated by her mentee Dr. Rosemarie Tremblay-LeMay, Assistant Professor in LMP.

They started their mentoring relationship as part of the development program in LMP for new faculty, something which has been invaluable for Dr. Tremblay-LeMay as junior faculty, but has also been surprisingly educational for Dr. Lin too.

“Rosemarie was very interested in developing her leadership skills and taking courses which is something I definitely didn’t do early in my career,” comments Dr. Lin, “I was very impressed with that and it inspired me to look at my leadership skills. I ended up taking courses from the CMA Physician Leadership Institute on her recommendation.

Being in different branches of laboratory medicine – Dr. Lin is in transfusion medicine, and Dr. Tremblay-LeMay is in Hematological Pathology – proved to be a major advantage.

“Being a hematologist, I could understand a lot of the context in which Rosemarie was working, but having that distance in terms of our day-to-day jobs was actually a great advantage,” says Dr. Lin, “It meant we didn’t get bogged down in details and looked at topics and situations more broadly that would help her career path.”

Taking a step back to reflect and see the bigger picture

Both Dr. Lin and Dr. Tremblay-LeMay note that one of the main benefits of the mentoring program was having allocated, ring-fenced time to reflect. They meet every six months and use this time to set goals and reflect on progress.

“We’re often so busy just getting our jobs done and rarely get dedicated time to talk about what we’re doing and where we are in our careers,” says Dr. Lin, “A great part of this program, for both of us, is to have that time to just ask ‘is this the direction I want to be going in?’ Making conscious decisions about how to move things forward and thinking about the bigger picture.”

For Dr. Tremblay-LeMay this reflection time has been paired with practical, inside knowledge in how to navigate the three-year review process for promotions.

“Yulia has been great at explaining the process to me and giving me advice, like to start now to collect all the information rather than waiting until the process starts.” Explains Dr. Tremblay-LeMay, “She’s helped me think about my ‘brand’ and keep focussed – how to work out what to say yes and no to.”

“I now have a better idea of what I want and where I want to be which helps me identify what I need to do to protect my energy and time. There are so many things to get involved in, so how do I make sure that everything that I'm doing is aligning and building up towards my goals? Having Yulia as a sounding board really helps me with all these decisions.”

“That’s the advantage of a formalised program,” adds Dr.Lin, “I have informal mentors I bounce ideas off, but having a structured program like this with allocated time gives us more freedom to really reflect on what we’re doing and dedicate more time to it.”

Being recognised for outstanding mentorship

The pair meet formally every six months but that is not the only time they have. They often connect to discuss ideas, proposals and to give advice.

Dr. Tremblay-LeMay nominated Dr. Lin for the award due to her openness and willingness to be there for her. Dr. Lin said of receiving the award, “I feel surprised and shocked, but honored. This has been so much fun and so worthwhile.”

“I felt she really deserved this award as she worked so hard to be the best mentor she could be. She was there officially to coach me through the promotions process, but she also supported me in many aspects of my professional career and cared for me as a human being.”

Yulia and Rosemarie’s advice for a successful mentoring relationship

“For me, one of the most important things is to set expectations right at the start”, says Dr. Lin, “Informal mentoring relationships often don’t have this, but I found it a real advantage in this more formal program. Having a good expectation of what each side expects from the other is really helpful.”

“It’s like everything in life - you definitely get out what you put in,” adds Dr. Tremblay-LeMay, “As a mentee you need to do your homework – be prepared and really think about what you want from your mentor and set yourself some goals. Commitment is key.”

“Listening is also key for mentors” says Dr. Lin, “My role is not to make a decision for my mentee, but to help them look at what the options are, and present some different perspectives. I think often the mentee knows what they should do or what path they want to take, they just need some support to make the right decisions for them.”

“It’s been a great experience so far”, she adds, “It’s an opportunity to contribute to the community and give back to others. It’s enjoyable to hear what other people are doing and how they're managing. I feel that I’ve learned a few things along the way that could help others move forward successfully and make their paths a bit easier”.

If you are interested in becoming a mentor to a new faculty, please contact Patricia Cayetano at patricia.cayetano@utoronto.ca.