PAF - Mentoring

The Adapting to College Life Programme (PAF) is a mentoring programme where older students welcome and integrate new students. PAF was created at FCUL in 1999 and conducted for the first time in the Physics Department. PAF has been implemented in several departments over the years. It is currently being implemented in the Geology Department, IT Department and with Erasmus students coming to study at FCUL.

Being a mentor...

The origin of the noun “mentor” dates back to ancient Greece where Mentor was the given name of an elder whom Ulysses confided the safety of his house when he parted for Troy. This is when Mentor started to designate “prudent advisor”.

The mentoring system is based on relationships where a more experienced student (2nd year onwards) serves as a guide or mentor to the newly arrived students and the new environment. Its main objective is to take advantage of the experience of these older students in order to facilitate the integration of the new ones. The Mentoring programmes have been used for several years in European Institutions of Higher Education and other continents with good results.

At FCUL this programme was baptised with the name PAF - Adapting to College Life Programme. It is currently operating in the Geology Department, IT Department and with international students in mobility programmes at FCUL (e.g. Erasmus students). The long term goal is to implement it in all FCUL departments.

Is the mentoring a kind of hazing?

No. PAF and hazing only share one objective which is to present the new environment to the newly-arrived student. However, participation in PAF is voluntary and the monitoring made by the mentors is deeper and more specific than that which is made during the hazing period. It will be maintained, in principle, during the first few weeks of the first semester and not only during the beginning of the academic year.

But how does this work in practical terms?

The implementation of PAF results from a coordinated effort of the Executive Councils from the departments that benefit from it and the psychologists from GAPsi – Psychological and Learning Support Office at FCUL.

GAPsi’s main role is to initially prepare the mentors through training on group coordination and support during the semester. However, in practical terms, PAF is mainly a programme made by students for students – they are the ones who contact directly with the newly-arrived students and are better equipped to determine the type of welcoming and monitoring that is more appropriate for them.

The mentors work in teams of two and are in charge of a small group of nine students. The average “life expectancy” of a group mentor is two/three months. There are groups that last as long as three years and there are others that dissolve after a month. The date we have selected is the month of January because by this time new students have already created their support network and it is no longer necessary to hold “formal” meetings.

PAF’s stages:

  • The mentors will have a first encounter with their group in which the mentees will have a chance to meet them along with other first year students;
  • During the first week of classes, the mentors will mainly promote activities that help the mentees in recognizing and adapting to their new environment;
  • This includes, on the one hand, presenting the department, the faculty and (if necessary) the city of Lisbon, pointing out the most important places and answering their questions;
  • On the other hand, it is important to transmit some implicit knowledge about the course and its particularities – things that are well known by those who have had the same experience (the bureaucracy, course structure, which disciplines are prerequisites for others, the best study methods, the books that are worth buying, etc.);  In addition, since the mentoring functions in a group, the integration of new students is also made at the level of establishing relationships, whether between mentees and mentors or between the group of mentees –they could have lunch together on certain days, talk to each other at the snack bar, do things outside FCUL, etc.;
  • But the mentoring does not stop here! The mentors will be available to meet the mentees when requested (obviously, if they can) and will establish some way of making contact.

To potential mentors...

What do I gain from being a mentor?

On the one hand, the satisfaction you will get from seeing how your participation contributes to your mentees’ better integration. On the other hand, you will benefit from training on group coordination (and are entitled to a certificate of participation) that will allow you to develop skills that will probably be beneficial in your future life. Furthermore, the mentoring also constitutes an opportunity for you to meet people and make friends.

We are looking for...

Second-year students or older that: have a spirit of mutual help; like meeting new people; are willing to listen to others; are people who are present so that the mentees know that they can ask for help to solve a problem that may arise.

Students to mentor Erasmus students that:

Have the previously mentioned characteristics; have had some experience abroad (e.g. Erasmus) so that they can, through their own experience, define the specific necessities of these new students; have the possibility to monitor at the beginning of one of the two semesters or in both.

If you see yourself in this description (or, at least, in part) you have the potential to become a good mentor. Come to GAPsi and sign up as a mentor for the next academic year.

To new students

What do I gain from having a mentor?

From the experience obtained until now, we think that your integration in a mentored group increases your probability of:

Acquiring important implicit knowledge on this new environment and increasing the number of strategies to effectively deal with some of the problems that may arise. The programme allows for this knowledge and strategies to be acquired quickly and with a minimum of difficulty along with all of the positive aspects that result from it and which would otherwise only be acquired through the passing of time. This applies:
At the academic level, allowing you to share and solve difficulties that you may have at the level of study methods or vocational training, thus promoting positive academic results.
At the social level, allowing you to prevent potential difficulties in your social integration and reducing the sensation of anonymity which is frequent in a large and unknown environment.

How do I contact my mentors?

If for any reason you are not able to go to the first encounter and want to contact your mentors later on, you can:

Ask your classmates in your year who also has them as mentors; Ask in a class with second or third year students if they know them; Contact GAPsi (C4, ground Floor, Room 4.1.25, tel.: 217 500 435) and say that you want to speak to your mentors.

Yes, but I don't need help

In that case, great! On the other hand, maybe your classmates can benefit from your help. It is also up to you to contribute to a good environment at your college and department by promoting a spirit of mutual aid and cohesion between classmates. By participating in PAF you are also creating conditions to constructively increase your and your classmates’ power of intervention in academic life.