As a graduate student, it’s important to have a mentor on your side who can give you individual guidance about your education and career path. Mentors can help you develop time management and communication skills, structure your research projects, and make the transition to clinical practice after graduation. A mentorship relationship will give you a chance to grow both as a person and as a professional. Check out these 8 tips for finding the perfect mentor.
1. Be Proactive
To increase your connections with potential mentors, be proactive in getting to know faculty members and other students. Consider volunteering to work on research projects with professors. You’ll gain invaluable real-world experience while also developing working relationships with faculty.
Also consider joining a professional association so you can network with others who are studying and working in your field. For example, if you’re a graduate nursing student, you can join a student nursing association. You’ll gain a community of supportive professionals, and you’ll be introduced to multiple potential mentors.
2. Seek Out People in Your Field
When conducting your search for mentors, start by asking more seasoned students about their personal experiences with faculty members and whom they recommend. Then narrow the field to mentors whose interests match yours. Ideally, you should find a mentor whom you admire and whose career trajectory is aligned with your aspirations. Take the time you need to find the right person. It will pay off in the long run.
3. Clarify Your Goals
You can’t find the perfect mentor until you clarify your own educational and career goals. Where do you want to be in five years? What would you hope to gain from a mentor? Are you looking for an advisor, a tutor, a supporter, or a model of professional identity? Requesting guidance in specific areas is more effective than general requests for mentorship. The better you understand your educational and professional needs, the more likely you are to find the right person.
4. Consider Teaching Style
Search for a mentor who truly enjoys sharing their knowledge and expertise. Ask seasoned grad students for recommendations of mentors who are dynamic, engaged, and available. You may be able to look up your prospective mentor on Google Scholar to read abstracts of some of their recent publications. Make sure their research area interests you. Chances are, their research agenda (and approach) will strongly influence the direction of your own dissertation over the next few years.
5. Take the First Step
Once you’ve identified a potential mentor, find out if they’re accepting students. Email them with a brief message about how your interests align with theirs and why you want to explore working with them. Rather than asking for a formal meeting, try inviting them to coffee; keep it less than an hour. Come with questions in mind and let the conversation flow naturally from there.
After the meeting, evaluate how the conversation went. Would you want to work closely with this person? Did you leave feeling excited and empowered? If it went well, follow up after the meeting and ask if they would be willing to be your mentor. Either way, thank them for their time.
6. Meet Consistently
Once you’ve found the perfect mentor and they’ve agreed to take you on, decide together where you will meet, how often, and for how long.
Before each meeting, send your mentor an agenda proposing material to review or discuss. This can be anything from feedback on a class project to learning more about their professional experience. Keep the meeting length reasonable and always send a follow-up thank you note.
7. Ask for Feedback
Part of being a great mentee is being open to feedback—whether it’s praise or constructive criticism. Your mentor should be able to offer an unbiased opinion that will help you identify areas for improvement. While receiving feedback may be uncomfortable at times, it’s essential to your growth.
8. Commit 100%
Like any relationship, a mentorship is a two-way street. What you put into it is what you will get out of it. Your mentor needs to see that you are fully committed to learning from this experience. Be on time, respond to emails in a timely fashion, and stay on track with assignments. Your mentor is setting this time aside because they believe in you and want to help you grow into a leader. Make it worth their effort—and yours—by stretching yourself and showing what you can do.