On Jan. 3, a McGill graduate student posted on Reddit to bemoan the lack of opportunities to connect with and mentor undergraduate students. Some commented that more casual connections would be better than none, and others pointed out that while social distance is natural between graduate and undergraduate students, there should be more professional room for mentorship within McGill. However, the problem has less to do with the lack of mentorship opportunities available, and rather with the barriers that prevent so many students from taking advantage of potential resources. Accessibility barriers blight potential mentorship opportunities at McGill, with difficult or non-functional online applications creating problems for students before the process even begins. While other faculty or society-specific mentorship programs are well developed, they present other hurdles, such as requiring extensive experience or significant financial commitment, meaning that the actual pool of mentorship opportunities for current McGill students is extremely limited.
One such program that is poorly advertised, underused, and functionally inaccessible is the main Career Planning Service (CaPS) Mentorship program, which claims to offer the possibility of real world experience and mentorship. The site states that students can browse potential mentors on the ‘Join Now’ tab, but unsurprisingly, there is not a massive database of potential mentors waiting to be linked with hopeful mentees. Instead, expectant students are greeted with a yellow box familiar to many broken McGill pages, stating that the application is ‘temporarily unavailable due to database maintenance’.
This obstacle means that the only other options for McGill students to access CaPS’s program is to either contact the Mentor Program Coordinator via email or to go to CaPS in person. This restricts students and hugely decreases the accessibility of the program, since students nervous about applying or who suffer from physical or mental barriers that might deter them from attending in person will be less likely to apply to the program.
The general McGill page for mentoring highlights a number of buddy programs, including the International Buddy Program, and faculty-specific programs such as the NUM Buddy Program. These programs are hugely valuable, and can be mutually beneficial to many students at McGill, but are different to what students and alumni are asking of a mentorship program—a way to connect people that is beyond the experience of solely current students. McGill is relying on its own students to support their peers, rather than helping students through their own resources, fostering a belief that buddy programs can replace a real effort to connect alumni with undergrads.
Valuable mentorship opportunities exist within organisations that are either exclusive in terms of long and demanding applications or financial obligation. Some of these organisations are phenomenal, and connect inspiring alumni to current students, such as McGill Women in Leadership. Understandably this requires extensive experience given that it is a high demand co-curricular club, rather than a university mandated careers program intended to be accessible to everyone. There are also organisations that are merit-based, like the Golden Key International Honour Association, but come with a catch that requires that students pay a $90 fee to join. These exclusive opportunities shut many students out before they are even able to get their foot in the door.
The problem at McGill is less of mentorship programs existing, and more that the programs available are plagued with countless bureaucratic hoops that students must jump through before they can even access the ‘Join Now’ page. This issue is yet another area of McGill student life that could be amazing, but instead is complicated by McGill bureaucracy, negatively impacting students and their future careers. Other campus organisations continue to offer better alternatives, but being inspired by alumni and taking advantage of what intelligent graduate students have to offer should not be a rare opportunity afforded to only those who know where to look, or who can afford membership fees. It should be an opportunity that everyone has access to, and a place where McGill alumni can show current students how to make the most of their degree.