Mentor Circle: Supporting First-Time Attendees at CHI

  • March 20, 2021

Supporting first-time attendees has a long tradition at CHI. In past years, when CHI was in person, we offered a range of activities that allowed newcomers to meet people and get integrated into the community. There was a newcomers' welcome reception on Sunday night. There was a lunch programme that allowed attendees to get together with more experienced community members in a relaxed atmosphere. There was a special ribbon for first time attendees, so that more experienced attendees could see who needed to be made welcome. And, last but not least, there was the Diversity and Inclusion lunch, where attendees who were new to the community were able to talk to each other about equality, diversity, and inclusion in HCI. 


This year, for the first ever fully virtual CHI, with the lowest registration fees in recent history, we expect a record number of first-time attendees. But how can we as a community support them appropriately? In response, the Global Communities, Diversity, and Inclusion Chairs, together with the General Chairs, developed the Mentor Circle programme. 


What is a Mentor Circle?


A mentor circle is a 1-1.5 hour session, where an experienced mentor will talk to 5-10 first time attendees about CHI. The experienced mentor will be someone who has been to CHI at least five times. The mentor will give advice on how to navigate the conference, how to network, and how to get the most out of the experience. Mentors and mentees will be matched depending on availability (day / time block). The default language of the Mentor Circle conversation is English. 


When and How do Mentor Circles Take Place? 


Mentor circles will take place in the two weeks before CHI. Provisionally, the session will take place via Zoom, with live captions. We chose Zoom for several reasons: It is one of the more accessible video conferencing solutions, we have Zoom licenses that include live caption provision, it works reasonably well even in low-bandwidth settings, and it is the software that most attendees will be familiar with. 


Mentor circles will be in one of the three main conference time slots. When signing up, mentors and mentees are asked to indicate two time blocks, which are the same as the time blocks used for presentations during the conference:


  • Time Block A : JST 08:00-10:00, CEST 00:00-02:00, EDT 19:00-21:00, PDT 16:00-18:00
  • Time Block B : JST 16:00-18:00, CEST 08:00-10:00, EDT 03:00-05:00, PDT 00:00-02:00
  • Time Block C : JST 00:00-02:00, CEST 16:00-18:00, EDT 11:00-13:00, PDT 08:00-10:00


What does Being a Mentor Involve?


As a mentor, you will lead discussion with your mentees and answer their questions to the best of your ability. We will provide a suggested structure, and an FAQ based on an earlier event for Newcomers to CHI. You will also receive training - we will provide a captioned video with an additional full transcript, and we will ask you to abide by the ACM Harassment Policy. We will also ask you to sign up to specific slots (time block plus day), and to keep these protected in your diary. Once the allocation of mentees is complete (ideally by April 19), you will receive a list of attendees for each of the slots with their name, institution, preferred pronouns, and relevant accessibility provision. 


What does Being a Mentee Involve?


As a mentee, we invite you to think about what it is you would like to get out of CHI. Do you want to get to know other people in the same field? Are you on the job market? Do you want to learn more about a specific area of HCI? Are you bewildered by the variety of abbreviations and sub-tracks? You should also carefully read the ACM Harassment Policy. At least two days before your session, you will receive a list of fellow attendees with their name, institution, and preferred pronouns. 


Mentee spaces are assigned using a lottery system once we have confirmed the availability of mentors, since the number of groups we can create depends on the number of mentors we can recruit.


Accessibility and Inclusion 


We will do our best to honour accessibility requirements, using the information you have provided during CHI registration. All participants should refer to each other by their preferred pronouns. While the default language of the Mentoring Circle is English, English has many global variants that are all equally acceptable. If you are used to a specific variety of English, such as Canadian English, be aware that some of the words and phrases you use may not make sense to someone who speaks a very different variety, such as Australian English. 


How do I sign up? 


If you have registered after March 14, you may have seen it come up on the registration form; if you registered before then, you can review your registration and join the programme later. 


Registration for the mentor circles will close on April 13, to give us enough time for allocating and arranging groups. 




Many of the restrictions and constraints on the Mentor Circle programme are due to two reasons:

  1. We are a team of volunteers with full time jobs / commitments 
  2. This is the first time that this programme is running. Therefore, we have deliberately kept it as simple as possible. 


Why do you only support Zoom? 


We are reasonably confident that Zoom works for the intended purpose, and we have access to paid licenses that support important accessibility features such as closed captions. 


Why are you not matching mentors and mentees by language, background, gender ... ?


While we recognise that such a match has the potential to substantially boost the value of a Mentor Circle, the matching required is actually quite complex to achieve, especially if we introduce more than one constraint. Since this year is the first time that the Mentor Circle programme runs, we have decided to implement a simple version that makes matching mentors to mentees feasible within the time we have.


Why am I not guaranteed a space in a Mentor Circle? 


We cannot guarantee that we can find enough mentors for everyone. We will prioritise first time attendees from Category H and I countries. To ensure fairness, spaces will be distributed using a lottery system, based on the number of mentors who have confirmed participation and completed their training by April 16. 


The system works as follows:

  • First, we will allocate all mentees from Category I countries to a mentor.  
  • Then, the remaining places will be distributed among mentees from Category H countries. If there are fewer places than mentoring requests, places will be assigned at random.
  • If places remain after all Category I and Category H mentoring requests have been fulfilled, we will pick a random selection of mentoring requests from Category C to fill the remaining places. 


Everyone who has not been allocated to a mentor group will be assigned to a waiting list. If spaces become available, we will  offer them to the next people on the waiting list. 


What happens if I cannot make my Mentor Circle Meeting?

If you are a mentor, please let Maria Wolters from the GDI team (, attn Maria) know as soon as possible, and we will do our best to arrange back up for you. 


If you are a mentee, please let us know as soon as possible, so that we can move you to another group, if feasible, or offer your space to someone else. 


Why do I need training to be a mentor?

Based on our experience at CHI, we know that well meaning people sometimes make missteps that lead to other people feeling excluded, marginalised, and not heard. We want to avoid this as much as possible, so we proactively offer guidance. 


Why are the Mentor Circles so large?

Since this is the first time we are running this programme, we are not sure whether we will be able to get enough mentors. Therefore, we have decided to make the circles slightly bigger, to ensure more people can benefit.

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