Not so long ago, one late afternoon, I was sitting in my office catching up on some work. My office door was open, but my back was to the door, so I didn't notice the person lurking in the hallway. Finally, a soft knock on the door, and a completely unfamiliar face.
Student: Hi. Um, are you a professor?
me: (!!!) Um, yeah. [said with a bit of an attitude, I will admit.]
Student: Are you a [field somewhat related to mine housed in the same building] professor?
me: No, I'm a computer science professor.
Student: Oh. [pause] Well, can I talk to you anyway?
At this point I'm thinking "no, please go away and let me get back to my work", but I couldn't think of a polite way to say so, so I said, "Well, it depends. What would you like to talk about?"
Turns out that this young woman was thinking about becoming a major in that other field, but could not track down anyone to talk to that day. Turns out that all she really wanted was someone to listen as she verbally worked through why she wanted to be a major in Other Field (which is also underrepresented in the number of women and minorities) and what was holding her back from doing so. Since Other Field is somewhat related and in the same building, I know a bit about their program, and so we sat and chatted for about 20 minutes. I mostly listened, but was able to point out some things for her to consider, as well as boost her confidence (since some of the conversation touched on imposter syndrome issues). She seemed very happy as the conversation ended, indicated that she probably would major in that field, and thanked me profusely.
(Lest you think I was all altruistic here, I did put in a heavy sales pitch for her to try a few CS classes---many majors in that program do so anyway---and she sincerely said she would. But clearly her heart is with Other Field, and I respect that.)
Sometimes mentoring is weird. Sometimes the best mentoring happens at the moments we least expect it. Sometimes it requires us to help people we're otherwise not invested in, or may never see again. In a sense, part of me felt disappointed after that interaction, because it felt like "recruiting for the enemy". (Not that Other Field is the enemy---not at all!---but I guess I felt a bit jealous that this woman was all fired up about that field and not my field.) But a larger part of me also felt like this was ultimately a Really Good Thing. It could be the type of thing that this student remembers 5 or 10 or 20 years down the road, when she's in a position to help other, younger women get a leg up in Other Field---maybe it will convince her to become a mentor, intentional or otherwise.