You have probably heard the word “mentor” many times and how important a mentor can be for your career, but how can you identify suitable mentors for you? This is a question that many trainees ask themselves. Identifying a good mentor is not an easy task and it takes time and dedication.
So, where do you start? First of all, you need to understand what a mentor is and what mentoring means. A mentor is more than an advisor. S/he is someone who supports and guides you throughout your career imparting his or her knowledge and expertise. Most importantly, a mentor will encourage and motivate you to think and develop your own ideas and career goals.
Who can be a mentor? Actually, anyone! But choosing one might depend on your career stage and your career goals. If you are an undergraduate student interested in medicine, a mentor can be a physician currently practicing medicine. But if you are interested in academia, it can be a faculty member at your institution. If you are a graduate student, it might be a postdoctoral fellow or your principal investigator (PI). If you are a postdoc interested in science policy, you might want to ask someone with experience in the policy arena to be your mentor.
Mentoring is about building a relationship of support and trust with someone who is willing to share their experience, skills and guidance to help you develop both professionally and personally to achieve your goals. Finding good mentors is critical to your career development and your mentoring needs will change over time, so it is a continual process. So, here are some tips to help you in your search:
Find a mentor whose career or experiences are of interest to you.
In order to find a beneficial mentor, it is very important to ask yourself: Where do you want to be in several years? What are your career goals? What are your strengths and weaknesses? You’ll want to look for mentors whose experiences and career accomplishments align with your goals and whom you can learn from.
Choose mentors who provide guidance and constructive criticism.
A good mentor will provide guidance and supportive feedback. S/he will help you grow professionally and personally by working together to enhance your strengths and improve your weaknesses. A good mentor values learning and fosters critical thinking. Therefore, s/he will encourage you to come up with your own ideas and will challenge you to bring out your full potential.
Seek multiple mentors.
Don’t feel restricted to have only one mentor because you feel you will hurt your mentoring relationships by having multiple mentors. In fact, you should have several mentors because each individual can be a valuable resource depending on their unique experiences and how those experiences fit your needs and interests. For example, you might need a mentor to help you develop your teaching skills and another one to advise you on your research project. Of utmost importance, is finding a mentor who is committed and willing to take the time to share their expertise and skills with you. If unsure, start the dialogue early and ask if they are willing to be a mentor to you; however, keep in mind that mentors often develop organically over time.
Understand that mentoring is a two way street.
A common misconception is thinking that mentoring is one sided. Often, a successful mentoring relationship benefits both sides. It can be a rewarding learning experience for both the mentor and the mentee. You should feel confident that you are contributing to the relationship, as your success is also your mentor’s success. Moreover, as you move up in your career, you might become a valued colleague for your mentor and you can also pay it forward by mentoring others.
Remember, like in every relationship, finding a mentor takes time and dedication. Once you find it, you need to cultivate and foster that relationship, but how do you do that? Be sure to check the blog for the second part of this series in which we will discuss how to cultivate and maximize your mentoring relationship.