Mentors and Mentees at the General Meeting

By Naomi Baer

NCTA’s General Meetings are always an excellent opportunity for networking, learning, and enjoying pleasant camaraderie with colleagues in the translation and interpreting community. September’s event was no exception, especially with our featured workshop on “Building Successful Mentoring Relationships,”presented by guest speaker Courtney Searls-Ridge.

First and foremost, it was heartening to note that attendance at the meeting was nicely enriched by the presence a of number of people visiting all the way from Southern California, as well as by the faces of non-member T&I professionals interested in learning about the association.

The afternoon kicked off as usual with an informative New Member Orientation session, offered by Tetu Hirai, our Membership Director. While those new to NCTA learned about our services and activities, others engaged in lively conversation over refreshments prepared by Raffaella Buschiazzo, our Events Director. At about 1:30 p.m., the meeting was called to order by NCTA President Tuomas Kostiainen, who, along with Vice President Yves Averous, made the latest association announcements.

With that, we were then treated to a highly informative and very engaging presentation by Ms. Searls-Ridge, chair of ATA’s Mentoring Program, who joined us from Seattle to present her workshop on successful mentoring practices for translators and interpreters. The seminar was packed with information, not only for newcomers, but also for those ready to share some of their experience with newer members of the translation community.

A New, Structured Program

Before the Mentoring Program was founded, many ATA chapters – including NCTA – were instrumental in creating opportunities for informal mentoring, because of close contact among members and the proximity of experienced translators who could give advice to people entering the profession. About ten years ago, Ms. Searls-Ridge told the group, ATA decided it was time to set up a more formal program and began experimenting with formats that might work for such a diverse and widespread membership. The program is now structured as a mentee-driven activity, where members interested in receiving mentoring are responsible for finding a mentor and structuring the relationship. The orientation workshops that ATA provides help potential mentees and mentors build the skills that make such relationships successful.

Ms. Searls-Ridge led the group through several exercises and asked us to think about our past experiences with mentoring, whether formal or informal. In small groups, we talked about what those experiences had meant to us and – so that we might begin to understand what motivates mentors to contribute their time – how those experiences might also have been fulfilling for our mentors.

She then reviewed the four-step process for establishing a mentoring relationship: planning, building and negotiating a relationship, developing the relationship itself, and ending the relationship after a fixed time. A relationship of one year is recommended, working on about three goals per year. Ms. Searls-Ridge also recommends a mid-year review, which allows mentees to set new goals at that point.

After some discussion of how to go about finding a mentor, Ms. Searls-Ridge discussed issues that are useful to talk about early on, including asking your mentor to offer criticism in the ways you receive it best, discussing what kind of confidentiality you both should expect from each other, and identifying development activities you could work on together.

Possible activities were discussed, and audience members contributed numerous suggestions: shadowing your mentor in his or her work for a day, role playing on negotiations for a new translation project, co-authoring an article, getting feedback on a sample translation, and discussing life/work balance strategies.

Mentors Wanted

The presentation included ample information for potential mentors as well, with a separate book of exercises and advice. Ms. Searls-Ridge discussed skills important to the mentor side of the relationship, such as active listening, maintaining boundaries with your mentee, and strategies for handling differences of opinion.

For those who weren’t able to make it to this workshop, ATA runs mentoring orientation workshops throughout the year in different locations, as well as at the ATA Conference each year. Check the organization’s website for scheduling information:

For those of you who did attend, we’d be interested to hear how things go if you do start working with a mentor or mentee. Write to us at and let us know if you’d be interested in telling us about your experiences.

As participants said their good-byes after the meeting, business cards were exchanged with great enthusiasm. Mentor, mentee, or neither … relationships are waiting to be built. See you at our next General Meeting!