Definition of Protege
Proteges are people who enjoy the guidance of more experienced people called mentors. Historically, there are a number of famous proteges. Today, formal and informal mentor-protege relationships exist.
A protege is a person who benefits from the knowledge, influence or experience of another person.
The more experienced person, also called a mentor, guides and inspires his or her protege. A mentor may offer support in the form of advice and instruction, or he may offer more tangible support, such as financial assistance or work opportunities.
A protege is sometimes called a mentee.
The word protege comes from the Middle French word “protege”—the feminine form is “protegee”—meaning “one who is protected.” The French “protege” is derived from the Latin verb “protegere,” meaning “to protect.”
Protege seems to have entered into English use around 1787.
Proteges and mentors have existed throughout most of human history.
One of the most famous mentor-protege chains starts with Socrates, the Greek philosopher whose protege was the philosopher Plato. Plato, in turn, mentored Aristotle, whose protege was Alexander the Great.
The poet T.S. Eliot (author of “The Wasteland”) was mentored by fellow poet Ezra Pound.
Civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King was the protege of Morehouse College president Benjamin Mays.
A number of artists claim painter Camille Pissarro as their mentor. Among Pisarro’s proteges were the celebrated artists Paul Gauguin, Georges Seurat and Paul Cézanne.
Proteges can learn a great deal from the guidance and experience of their mentors.
Mentors can answer questions for proteges and help proteges to expand their knowledge base and understanding of a given subject, field or undertaking. Mentors can help proteges hone their skills and master new skills.
Being a protege also expands your professional and social network.
Many mentor-protege relationships are informal. If you are looking for a mentor in your field, consider sending letters of interest to leaders in the field asking for an informational interview. If your conversation goes well, you may be able to develop a mentor-protege relationship.
Some organizations also offer formal mentor-protege programs. Check with your chosen field’s professional organization to see if it offers such a program and what requirements for application are.