Einstein himself was a great believer that mentors play a significant role in scientific success, and research suggests he was definitely right. Having a mentor, particularly when you’re just starting off in your career journey, is proven to have a whole host of benefits, from expanding your knowledge to strengthening your network. However, finding the right person to act as your mentor can be tricky. You’ll need to find someone who has time for you, understands your goals and values, and has a similar skillset and knowledge base. In this post, we’ll discuss how to make finding a mentor in STEM a little easier.
Ensure you understand the role of a mentor
A mentor is a person intended to act as your guide, and someone who will help you to navigate challenging situations as well as give you the confidence boost to stretch yourself professionally. For people in STEM, this will likely be someone who works within the same industry as you, and understands the hurdles you might face. While it’s possible to be mentored by a peer you admire, you’ll ideally want to select someone who’s a level or two ahead of you in their career track, and someone whose achievements you aspire to emulate. Keep in mind also that a mentor is different from a sponsor. A mentor will be there to answer questions and offer advice, while a sponsor will use their connections to advocate for you, and actively participate in your career growth.
Identify your short and long-term goals
What do you hope to accomplish professionally within the next three months, six months, or a year? You’ll need to spend some time figuring this out, as the more specific you are, the easier it will be to find the right mentor. Thinking about your dreams can allow you to break big ideas down into smaller, more easily achievable goals that are easier to accomplish through short-term steps. You might choose to use the SMART strategy to achieve this: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timebound. After you’ve identified your goals, you’ll be in an excellent position to identify the right person to help you achieve them.
Find someone passionate about their work
As a wise man once said, choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life. A large body of evidence-based career advice tells us that people who are passionate about their work are happier, as well as more motivated and productive. Enthusiasm is contagious, and people who are fully engaged with their role often thrive on helping others to see what makes their work so engaging. Within STEM, it’s not too hard to find people who are both accomplished and enjoy their job – after all, most roles take many years and high-level qualifications to achieve, which is hard to sustain without the right motivation. For this reason, finding a mentor with all of these qualities might help gift you a passion for a particular professional area for life.
Think who you look up to
Finding a mentor is all about identifying someone you admire on both a personal and professional level. For example, maybe you identify a clinical research physician who has the career you aspire to achieve one day, but they’re known for being difficult and uncooperative at work. Although there’s probably a lot you can learn from them from a knowledge perspective, they’re not someone you’d especially want to take any life lessons from. It’s therefore important to take your time when searching for a mentor, explore your network, and see who has a stellar reputation within your area of interest.
Be sure to look for different perspectives
In order to push yourself to grow, it can be helpful to find a mentor with a different background and worldviews to your own. For example, if you’ve never been in the position of struggling financially, it can be helpful to connect with someone who has faced this kind of adversity. Alternatively, working with someone who comes from a different cultural background from your own can also be beneficial. By doing this, you’ll be able to better understand how to work with different people, improve your communication, and boost your emotional intelligence.
As you’ll likely understand if you’re making your first moved within the industry, most STEM professionals have an incredibly hectic working schedule. It therefore pays to think beforehand about who will have the necessary amount of spare time to devote to the mentoring relationship, along with how much time you’d ideally like to spend with your mentor. For example, you could find someone who has retired, or who works part time. If this isn’t possible, you may just need to be prepared to work your meetings around their schedule, and be flexible – for example, your meetings could take place over video call, rather than in person.
Write your elevator pitch
It’s all very well deciding who the right mentor is for them, but without convincing them, you’re only halfway there. You’ll need to be up-front about what you’re looking for in a mentoring relationship, as well as the time commitment you’re seeking. You might also bring up the possibility of reverse mentoring, so that they’re also benefitting from the relationship. And remember, flattery will get you everywhere – don’t hold back on mentioning what you like about their work, and why you admire them.
Make it easy for your mentor
As we touched on earlier, there’s every chance your mentor will be a busy person. You can help to be respectful of their time by dealing with logistics such as finding a place to meet, or setting up a Zoom call. Ensure you’re on time for all your arranged meetings, and try to take up no more than thirty minutes of their time in one session. If you’re meeting in person, offer to buy them a coffee as a token of your appreciation. Throughout your relationship, be sure to find ways to express your gratitude towards them. This could be something as simple as a handwritten note, or the offer to make an introduction that could be beneficial for their career.
By following the above advice, you can be sure to find a mentor that will help to advance your career, and build a lasting and fruitful relationship that could last for many years to come. Once you’re more established in your career, be sure to pay it forward and look for opportunities to mentor others just getting started – you’ll likely find its every bit as rewarding.
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