PART II: Managing Mentoring Relationships – Tips for Mentors

June 20, 2016

Last week in Part I, we offered some ideas for mentees in order to maximize their mentoring relationships. This week, we are going to focus on mentors.

Mentors may find it difficult to find time and energy to manage and train someone, all while trying to satisfy their own work demands. In addition, teaching and training someone is a skill that must be practiced. If you are new at it, it can cause stress for all parties involved. Wondering how you can improve upon your own mentoring skills?

Here are some ideas for mentors:

Be mindful in selecting your mentee. The mentoring relationship, if conducted with care, can be an incredibly rewarding experience for both mentee and mentor. If the match does not fit though, it can also result in a lot of stress and unnecessary effort on both ends. Therefore, it is crucial that the mentor chooses their mentee with care. Assessing the mentee’s motivation, taking similarities and differences into account, and starting the mentorship with a trial period are all steps both parties can take to ensure a successful match. Selecting a good mentee also requires self-knowledge: what are your strengths and weaknesses, how much time and effort do you have aside from your own work, and how many mentees can you realistically take on?

Set clear expectations for performance from the start. In addition to getting used to the new workflow, mentees are also likely getting used to personalities and working styles of their new colleagues and superiors. As this takes time, being explicit about your objectives and expectations for the relationship from the get go will result in more productivity and a better mentoring relationship. Be sure to challenge your mentee, but do not set expectations so high that they feel paralyzed and overwhelmed. Once you have seen the mentee’s performance, it is crucial to offer honest, specific feedback on a regular basis. Everyone loves positive feedback, but it is usually the negative feedback that sparks more learning and change. In instances where negative feedback is needed, it can be helpful to start off with a positive comment/suggestion, and perhaps end with one too. Once you have a sense that your mentee has attained mastery, escalate their responsibility over time to boost their confidence. Make sure to accelerate at a slow enough pace though!

Be accessible. Especially in the beginning. Even with the best communication and clear expectations in place, it can be difficult in a busy research environment to keep up to date and on the same page with both day to day tasks and long term goals. Projects and daily objectives change, mentees can learn of new opportunities that change their perspective. Therefore, keeping regular meetings, both formal and informal, can be a great way to check in, keep in the loop, and stay on the same page. Sometimes meetings are best in a formal context, but informal meetings over lunch or coffee can also help build rapport, and convey what you want in a more effective manner. No matter the context of the meeting, it is important for both parties to practice active listening, which includes dedicating full attention to the discussion, good eye contact, and engaging body language. In some settings, mentees could greatly benefit from even working directly with the mentor on a project; giving them direct exposure in your research and working methods could give them lifelong methods. No matter how you do it, it is imperative that you spend time engaging directly with your mentee.

Although mentoring a young researcher does not always result in a tangible benefit for the mentor, there are many valuable results that come from mentoring a student. First, creating a positive teaching relationship with a mentee often results in more work getting done for the lab’s or mentor’s own research project, saving time and energy. Playing the role of a mentor can also result in a greater self-understanding of one’s own strengths and weaknesses as a researcher and leader.  Lastly, mentoring a young researcher benefits the scientific field as a whole, because it provides direct hands-on learning experience for young professionals who might have no other way of getting such experience. If done correctly, it constitutes a win for all involved.

If you want to read more about mentoring relationships, check out previous blog posts on: Identifying Mentors: Why it Matters  and Getting the Most Out of Mentoring Relationships.

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PART I: Managing Mentoring Relationships – Tips for Mentees

June 13, 2016

Perhaps you are a summer intern or you are managing a summer intern?

Regardless of your role, managing the mentor-mentee relationship can be a difficult task.  Attempting to creating a good personality fit  and work style with your mentor, and effectively offering and using feedback, all while managing ever-present demands in the workplace can prove to be a tough and confusing experience for both mentors and mentees.

Wondering how you can better choose and create a positive working relationship with your mentor or mentee?

Here are some ideas for mentees:

Take control of your career path, even when under the wing of a mentor. Even when you’ve found a mentor and created a good relationship, it is up to you to direct and own the relationship. So show leadership and direct it towards what you need. Once you’ve found a mentor, it is easy to sit back and assume that your path is set to go, or to defer to the mentor for all thoughts and directions. This can be a dangerous mindset to fall into though, because it removes you as an agent in your own professional future. Beginning mentoring relationships with a clear discussion of mutual goals and expectations is crucial. In a similar vein, as you continue in your relationship with this mentor, an ongoing periodic checkup is also important, to continually evaluate these mutual goals and expectations, and to assess whether the mentorship is still beneficial.

Become an expert at receiving feedback. It is always easy to accept a compliment, but part of becoming successful in any professional enterprise is accepting and working on your weaknesses. Therefore, it is crucial to be receptive to both positive and negative feedback given to you by your mentor. This means that you listen carefully, demonstrate that you understand, make your best attempt to adjust your performance based on this feedback, and then, after some time and effort, seek additional feedback on how well you’ve progressed. A helpful tool in improving receptiveness to feedback is to focus on your mentor’s communication style, how they offer feedback, and in turn, how you react to it. Also, remember that mentoring is a two-way street, and giving feedback to your mentor can be a valuable tool in boosting your working relationship.  This could come in the form of asking clarifying questions regarding directions or in advocating for yourself by saying, “I tend to work best when ____. Could we find a way to accommodate this?” 

Transition effectively if it is not working out.It is easy to become demotivated if you find that your mentor relationship is not working out the way you want it. Despite this, it is important to keep in mind that mentoring relationships can be complicated by many factors, including: differences in work style, communication style, changing motivations, and evolving workplace dynamics. Make sure to keep focused on your goals, and to leave emotions out of it. Once you find a new mentor, you can work to continuing to achieve your goals.

It cannot be overstated how important and complex the mentor-mentee relationship is. For the mentee, it could very well be a jumpstart into a lifelong career. For the mentor it could be an opportunity to profoundly impact a young researcher, as well as improve the mentor’s own communication and leadership skills. To ensure success, stay engaged, be clear in your communication, and take ownership of the opportunity.

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Next week, in Part II, we will discuss tips for mentors.


Welcome Summer Interns!

June 16, 2014

Image of a "welcome mat" - a brown mat with black letters stating "WELCOME"If you are just arriving at the NIH as a summer intern, the Office of Intramural Training and Education (OITE) wants to take a moment to welcome you! Summer is often seen as a time of the year to kick back and relax, but not here at the NIH and we love the extra excitement and energy buzzing around campus during the summer months.

As you continue to settle into your lab, we want to make sure you take advantage of all the opportunities available to you in order to maximize your summer experience. With that in mind, here are some previous blog posts that each summer intern should take a few moments to read:

1. Orienting yourself to a new place and a new role can be tough. Understanding the Impact of Change is a blog post that addresses the challenges of transitions and helps you understand the internal impacts of external change. Follow this up with a quick read on Making the Most of Your Transition to the NIH.

2. Good mentoring relationships are essential to your professional development and success. Take advantage of your time at the NIH as an opportunity to Identify Mentors and Learn How to Make the Most of These Relationships.

3. Summer internships are a great way to gain exposure to a new setting and skill set. Also, remember to take the time to reflect on these experiences by Assessing Your Skills, Values and Interests as a way to better understand how this summer experience fits into your long-term career planning.

4. The OITE is here to help you. Whether you need help asking for a Letter of Recommendation or writing your Resume or CV, remember there are resources available to you.

We look forward to seeing you around campus, and we wish you a productive and professionally enriching summer experience!


2014 Career Success Plan

January 10, 2014

Here at OITE, our continued resolution is to help trainees become skilled in a variety of core competencies.  We view these four competencies as vital to your career development.

They include:
1. Career Exploration and Planning
2. Communicating
3. Teaching and Mentoring
4. Leading and Managing

Our goal for the blog this year is to cover a variety of resources and projected outcomes for each of these core competencies.

One of the first we will tackle is career exploration and planning.  This often involves four phases: Exploration, Preparation, Action, and Adaptation.  You will most likely go through these steps more than once because one’s career development very rarely follows a linear projection. Look next week for a blog on the topic of career exploration and planning, specifically individual development plans.

Hopefully, by covering all four of the core competencies, we will help to establish a thematic framework as you continue to read the blog throughout the year.  We will label and categorize each new post accordingly, so that the blog becomes a searchable site for you to easily navigate.  In addition, we hope this gives you some inspiration as you set your own new year’s career goals.  For a more detailed view of the graphic, please click on the image to enlarge.

Diagram of four core competencies; including: Career Exploration & Planning, Communicating, Teaching & Mentoring and Leading & Managing


Two Part Series: Part 2 – Getting the Most Out of Mentoring Relationships

December 13, 2013

An image of puzzle pieces being drawn by hand. The puzzle pieces read: "Motivate," "Lead by Example," "Mentor," and "Vision" to name a few.In the first part of this series, we talked about how to identify a good mentor. Now that you have done so, how do you cultivate and maintain that relationship? Identifying a mentor is not an easy task; making it work can be even more challenging. In this blog, we will give you some tips to help foster and maintain your mentoring relationships.

Take ownership of your career
Take charge; remember you are the one in control! Think about your career goals in the short-term and long-term. Communicate these goals to your mentors, so they can understand your interests and better guide you on which steps to follow or opportunities to seek to reach your goal. A good mentor will offer advice but not tell you the path to choose; ultimately, that is up to you.

Communicate your expectations
Once you define your goals, it is very important to discuss them with your mentors and work together to develop a plan (such as an individual development plan or IDP) to accomplish your goals. If you prefer structure, you can establish clear expectations for the relationship. For example, you can start by determining how often you will meet (weekly, monthly) and how you will communicate (by email, in person, Skype, etc.). When expectations are set early on, your mentor will then know what you are seeking from the relationship, but you will also know what s/he expects from you. This will help you to effectively manage the relationship and will avoid future misunderstanding.

Respect each other’s time
Be mindful of your mentor’s time! Take full advantage of the time you have with him/her. If you know you are meeting or talking to your mentor, be prepared! Before each meeting, you can send your mentor an agenda of topics you would like to discuss in advance and any questions you might have, which will also help them better prepare for your discussion.

Keep your mentor up to date
Mentors can be anywhere and with the help of technology, you don’t need to be close to each other to stay in touch. Let your mentor know about your progress (the good and the bad). You can tell them about any recent accomplishments or awards, as well as your professional struggles.  It is important to keep the lines of communication open, so your update doesn’t even have to be related to you; you can send them a paper or article that you think s/he might be interested in.

Remember: a mentoring relationship should be a rewarding and educational experience for both of you!  The quality of the output will largely depend on the quality of the input, so be sure to treat your mentoring relationships with the professional respect they deserve. Always be prepared for your meetings and practice good communication, but don’t be afraid to be honest about your interests and/or the new directions you are seeking.

 


Two Part Series: Part 1 – Identifying Mentors: Why it Matters?

November 21, 2013

Picture of two people holding puzzle pieces. One reads "Mentor," and the other reads "You"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.


NIH Alumni: Where are they now? Communications Manager

August 12, 2013

Name: Benjamin Porter, PhD

Job Title & Company: Communications Manager, Office of Communications; The University of Texas at Dallas

Location: Dallas, Texas

How long you’ve been in your current job: 3 months

Postdoc Advisor, IC and subject: Alan Koretsky, NINDS, Behavioral fMRI

What do you do as a Communications Manager?
Basically, my job is public relations — I handle both internal and external public relations matters for the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT Dallas. When researchers do interesting work or if they just received a grant or published a paper, I will write up a story for the University website. If we think it could be a bigger news story, then we try pitching it to a newspaper or TV station. Similarly, if there is a current events topic going on at a time when it makes sense for an expert to comment, then we will also pitch our faculty as experts. A recent example is the explosion at the chemical plant in West, Texas. We were able to pitch a chemist who could explain the basic science behind that event.

What are the most important skills that you utilize in your current position?
A lot of it is listening and being able to interpret what is being said. One of the reasons I was hired is because I have a PhD, and I am able to understand the science behind what the faculty are doing. I can then take that and translate it into layman’s terms. I can also understand the faculty’s concerns in talking to the media and the fear that they might be misrepresented.  On the other side, I understand what the media needs and what they need the faculty to say, and I can interact between the two parties well.

I write press releases and internal newsletters, so being able to write and edit goes a long way.  I am currently learning AP style and how to write for the news, but these are things you can pick up as long as you have the basic skill. Writing for the NIH Catalyst or the Record are great ways to practice writing for the public.

What has been the hardest aspect about transitioning into this career?
For me, I like to be absolutely certain about what I’m doing and know that I am doing it well, so not necessarily knowing every aspect of the job and having to keep asking people if this is correct has been an adjustment. But I think that comes with transitioning careers.

What is your favorite aspect of your current job?
I love getting to hear about everybody’s research and getting to meet with the faculty. There are about 80 faculty members that I work with and getting to meet all of them and hearing what they are doing is great. Then I get to brag about them, which is also fun.

What was your job search like?
My job search was weird. I started off looking for a job in DC because I was planning on going into science policy. I spent the last year of my postdoc getting prepared to find a job in science policy – making all of the connections and laying the groundwork. Then, the sequestration came around and my wife’s job at the Department of Defense became less stable. It was no longer feasible to live in DC and provide the life for our kids that we wanted, so we decided to move to Dallas because of our family connections here. I shifted my career path somewhat, but the part of science policy that I really liked the most was promoting science, which I still get to do.

My job search was remote at the time, so I used my network as much as possible. I also did a lot of cold calls and cold emails to find job leads in the area.   It turned out that a friend worked at UT Dallas and promoted the school as a great place to work. Then I just applied to an online job posting and worked my way in from there.

What was the response to your cold calls and emails?
A lot of the time, I would be told that the company wasn’t hiring, but they almost always gave me somebody else to call or another direction to go. One contact always led to two or three others.  I did probably 15 cold calls and only three or four didn’t get back to me. Just be sure to be upfront that you are looking for job leads in a cold call and not necessarily inquiring for a specific position. Limiting yourself to an inquiry into if the company is hiring will result in a simple yes or no answer. Leave it more open-ended than that.

How did you find people to call?
I did a lot of informational interviews when I was in DC. I did something like 50 informational interviews. From those interviews, I was able to ask people for connections. Also, my mentor at NIH encouraged me to get involved in extracurricular activities. I joined AAAS (The American Association for the Advancement of Science) and I started the Washington, DC, Metro Area Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience, which is still running strong. These involvements helped me to meet people and develop soft skills; plus, I was very lucky to have my mentor — my success seemed like his priority. Dr. Koretsky was one of my biggest assets.

What are the most important soft skills needed for your position?
The ability to get along well with people, especially with multiple bosses and multiple demands. You have to be able to work with others and compromise with them. I did a wonderful detail with the Office of Extramural Research, which allowed me to report to both my mentor and my detail manager. Balancing the needs of two very different jobs was a great preparation.

Open and straightforward communication is hugely important in my position, as is being able to jump right in. If you are switching careers, you don’t necessarily have to be comfortable, but try to be comfortable with your discomfort.

In hindsight, is there anything that you would have done differently with your job search?
I might have started earlier and looked a little more aggressively. And by that I mean meeting people. The connections that I made in DC were fairly limited to NIH. Towards the end, I was starting to branch out to some of the nonprofits in the DC area, and I wish I had started doing that earlier. I would recommend establishing your network fairly early and making it a broad net.

Any last bits of advice?
Don’t do it alone! NIH is a fantastic resource. OITE is a fantastic resource.  The people there are really great about helping out. Get to know the folks there well and early.  Plus, with all of the informational interviews that I did at NIH, I can say that almost everybody is willing to help you.

From the over 50 informational interviews, I only had about five that never got back to me.  Of those 50, I probably only cold called five to ten people.  All of the other connections were sparked from those first few calls, so always be sure to ask the person for another connection recommendation. The informational interviews also helped make me more comfortable when the time came for an actual job interview.  NIH is a great place for career development, so use it as much as you can.