Choosing a mentor will be one of the most important decisions that you will make during your professional career. According to the dictionary a mentor is an experienced and trusted adviser. For some of us, a mentor is someone greatly concerned about your future and will help you succeed. Indeed, mentorship is a two-way street, a personal and professional relationship where a compatible style of communication and collaboration must exist in order to succeed.
A good mentor is someone who is willing to listen and provide his or her unbiased opinion on many topics. It should be someone that makes you feel confident, has empathy as a mentee, and possesses a genuine interest in understanding your issues. A common mistake is to believe that one mentor is enough, whereas multiple mentors will only enhance your learning and contribute to the formation of your career. The trick is to identify these people and what type of contribution they will provide to the development of your professional career. For example, a mentor can facilitate the development of a productive colleague network, can help you understand your institution’s culture, and can advise you on how to achieve an acceptable work/life balance. Even though academic accomplishments and a well-established research career are important criteria for a mentor, you should also pay attention to his or her experience in directing postdoctoral fellows, successful track record of mentoring trainees, reputation for high standards, enthusiasm for advising fellows, and funding resources.
Before choosing your mentor, introspection is advised…and necessary. Before bringing in someone else to help guide your career, first you must identify your personal and professional goals, identify your strengths and weaknesses, clarify the type of research you want to do, identify the set of skills you want to learn, as well as the type of relationship you want to develop with your mentor. The mentor-mentee relationship should be one filled with respect and honesty, and as a mentee you are the one in charge of the success of this relationship.
Even though mentorship is more important during your training years, professional development never stops, and mentorship will always be needed.
Engaging peers and colleagues outside of your division or department would be advisable because an outsider perspective might be helpful when confronting a problem or making a decision. Mentoring is a lifelong relationship and as you progress through your career, your needs will change and so will your mentors. It is important to assess your relationship with your current mentor periodically.
Hopefully, this advice will help you find your mentor and build up a successful relationship. As you will no doubt find out, once a mentor, always a mentor.
Michelle Y. Rivera-Vega, MD, is a third year fellow in Pediatric Endocrinology at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC in Pittsburgh. She received a BS in Biology from the University of Puerto Rico, her MD from the Universidad Autónoma de Guadalajara, Mexico, and Fifth Pathway Certificate from Ponce School of Medicine in Puerto Rico.