Friday, February 10, 2012

How do I find a Mentor?

During your PhD and postdoc, it is always beneficial to have at least two mentors, one that is associated with your work (perhaps your academic advisor) and somebody who knows you but does not know the exact details of your work, especially for career development advice. Finding which type of mentor depends on what your career goals are. The first step in any career move is self assessment. Where do you want to be? Then find someone either within the department or university that you know and respect and can visit once in a while.

If you need to broaden your search, potential sources can be from mentornet, national postdoctoral association, networking opportunities from campus student and postdoc associations, Science career forum, professional society meetings such as AAAS. Contact a scientist in industry and send a short email asking for an informational interview with a link to your LinkedIn bio. Help organize a conference, volunteer to be on a panel. Attend workshops that will help strengthen your areas broadbase knowledge, communication skills, networking, project management.

Once you have found a mentor, set goals and expectations. Discuss what you want to get out the experience, the objectives, and divide the timeline into achieveable goals. An example of long-term goal is an academic career. Having just started a postdoc, the immediate short-term goals would be to design research projects towards high numbers of publications. If the long-term goal is industry, the projects should also include more collaborations.

You may want to write out the boundaries of the mentor/mentee relationship so that it remains constructive, predominantly work-focused, and keeps a professional relationship. NIH provides suggested mentoring guidelines. Work/life issues will always come up, and it should be up to the mentor/mentee on how they agree on handling them.

With my mentees, I exchange and agree on 1) expectations, 2) time per month, 3) they come up with an agenda, issue or question before the meeting or phone call, 4) they provide a list of 3 short term and 3 long term goals and how they think they will accomplish them. An example of an expectation list is: I can help you with career interests, skill development and setting goals, but not fundraising, getting a job or university applications.

Finding a mentor has become much easier since my days. Having said that, it is still up to you to find the mentor that you will "click" with who can help you with your career path. Also, if you plan well, you will have many mentors along the way. Even I, found my most recent mentor, at a recent conference at a networking luncheon. She was one of the speakers, I liked what she had to say, so I approached her with a question about my career path and followed up with an email so she would not forget about me. She was very accommodating and supportive. Due to this interaction, I have had several contacts with new opportunities.

Good luck with your search!


  1. Dear Nana,
    I found your blog today and the relevance of it basically shocked me. I am a mother of two, recently my career in science has ended with a rather unpleasant experience and I am looking for new directions. I did not have a mentor and I now see that it has been the biggest mistake I could have made, mistake of ignorance, but still a mistake. I read your posts on networking, LinkedIn and nonacademic career for scientists, and I am impressed. I was wondering whether you could consider becoming my mentor. I believe you may need more information about me, but I would like to be able to send it more privately than in a comment to a post. Please let me know, if that is something you could consider and if so, then how I can contact you.

    1. Hi Ania,

      Congrats on your babies!
      Thanks for reading my blog, and I am glad you found it helpful.
      First, get yourself on linkedin with as must on info on it as possible, including education, experience, interests, groups you like.
      Second, invite me through linkedin.
      We'll go from there.



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