how to find yourself a mentor

I lead mentoring programmes that start and stop at fixed times, and match partnerships outside of discipline area. Between times, or where a more disciplinary-focused mentor is needed — here’s how to find yourself a mentor:

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Choose your mentor based on their people skills, track record of developing others, and their context (‘more senior in research’ does not necessarily equal ‘better mentor’), not just on their publication track record or experience. Mentoring is a specific skill set. Talk to their researchers, PhD students and colleges to get insight into their skills.

Remember that your idea of what good mentoring is, might be different to theirs, you’ll need to set expectations between you. Let them know: are you looking for advice / to test out your ideas / an introduction to new networks / challenge and critique / or a space to share your concerns with an empathetic ally. Make the aims for the partnership clear.

You are recruiting a mentor to work with you, your role as a mentee is an active role, not a passive one, acknowledge this and communicate it to them. Reassure them that you will be doing the work, you won’t be expecting them to take action on your behalf.

To encourage them to feel motivated to mentor you, they have to see a fit between what you want, and what they have. Tell them briefly: 1. Who you are, 2. Where you’re heading in your career, 3. What your upcoming priorities are, and 4. How mentoring will help you get there.

Tell them why you chose them, specifically. Mention the skills and attributes you observe they have, and how they would fit with your aims for the near future. Think they’re great at negotiating, tell them. Think they’re tip top at inclusive education, tell them.

What do you actually want them to do, specifically (amount of time, timings, type of support)? Communicate this, it will make it more likely to get a yes if the ‘project’ has been ‘scoped’. Put a finite timeframe on it — you can always extend later if it’s working well.

Try before you commit! Suggest meeting for a coffee (or in other public space) in the first instance. Sound each other out, see if your interests and skills match & see if the dynamic of the partnership would work.

Mentor basic essentials — do not compromise on these:

  1. They’ll keep what you say confidential
  2. They listen before talking
  3. They can make this partnership about you, not about them.

To maximise what you get out of mentoring, think before, during, after:

  • Before. Get ready for mentoring – think about what you want to cover before you go to the meeting.
  • During. Be open minded to suggestions, but decide for yourself what you’d prefer to do.
  • After. Keep in touch, feed back, follow up.

Co-create the partnership. Help your mentor get it right for you by giving them some feedback. If it helps, use the following prompts to craft your feedback. The basics are to let them know what you want to change for next time.

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So you’ve tried it, and find you’re getting too much ‘telling’ and not enough listening!? Classic mentoring facepalm! Here is a post on expanding the mentor repertoire beyond advice, perhaps share with your mentor as part of the feedback, for their skills development.

You can leave the partnership if it’s not what you want. Simply thank them, genuinely, for their input. Name something you have achieved as a result of meeting with them. And advise them you are now stepping back to consider what you’ve learned and prioritise for your next steps. Job done.

Good luck in your search.

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