Mentoring Initiative mentor spotlight: Elvin Harms

Elvin Harms

The Fermilab Mentoring Initiative is nearing the end of its 2016 inaugural year. Twenty-eight participants make up the 14 mentoring pairs from diverse job categories and levels from across the lab. Holly Lett of the Professional Development Office sat down with mentor Elvin Harms in a Q&A session to learn what his experience has been so far. To learn more about the Mentoring Initiative, please visit the mentoring website. Mentor and mentee profiles can be submitted through Sept. 29.

“I can see my mentee has more confidence.”
— Elvin Harms, mentor

HL: Why did you decide to participate in the mentoring program?
EH: As more people retire from Fermilab, there’s a growing loss of institutional knowledge. At this point in my career it seemed the time was right to share what knowledge I have as well as to encourage growth in others. As a longtime supervisor for summer interns and already being a mentor to someone outside of the workplace, this seemed to be a natural extension of a path I’m already on — to provide some guidance and advice for those earlier in their career path. Coincidentally, publicity for this initiative came out just as my supervisor and I were discussing possibilities for mentoring.

HL: What surprised you most about being a mentor?
EH: Probably the biggest “aha” is learning how the various organizations at Fermilab carry out their missions differently, yet with the same overarching goal. That, and affirmation that many of us at Fermilab have similar work goals: personal satisfaction from a job well-done, acknowledgment by others, leaving for the day relatively stress-free, being part of a team that is effectively furthering the lab’s science mission.

HL: What impact has mentoring had on you professionally?
EH: I’ve learned that a critical requirement of effective mentoring is to be an active listener – and that’s also an important skill both in the workplace and in many interpersonal relationships. I believe (hope?) I have refined my ability to build people up by affirming — and gently questioning — their thinking and ideas.

HL: What do you value most about being a mentor?
EH: Watching someone change and grow in a positive way. My mentee has definitely benefited from this program and looks forward to sharing experiences and accomplishments since our previous meeting. That, and learning about another part of the laboratory, especially from the mentees’ distinct perspective.

HL: What value do you think mentoring brings to the lab?
EH: Mentoring is priceless – in a perfect world all new employees would be paired up with a mentor. In addition to getting first-hand accounts of the differences and similarities of divisions and sections, mentoring helps people see the big picture about the science we do at Fermilab and further communicate what the lab is doing amongst employees. As I alluded to earlier, mentoring is also invaluable in allowing employees who are further in their career to share their experiences — we can’t afford to lose the unique spirit Fermilab was founded on.

HL: What else would you like for others to know about mentoring?
EH: It doesn’t hurt! Mentoring is worth the investment in time – and deserves being a schedule priority. If you’re considering being part of the program, don’t hesitate to sign-up — make the commitment! I sense some people resist having a mentor because it could be perceived as a sign of weakness. Actually it is just the opposite: Mentoring is really a back-and-forth process. I’ve certainly learned and grown by being a mentor.