Use the Summer to Find a Mentor

Undergraduate intern and his mentor

Temesgen Woldeyesus (L) an undergraduate intern with CBST and his mentor Lorenzo Berti. Tem worked on nanotechnology applications for drug discovery. He is now a second year student at UCSF Medical School.

During the school year it may be hard to find the time between classes, internships, extracurriculars, part-time jobs and social engagements to connect and build a relationship with a mentor. While finding a mentor isn’t a requirement in higher education, having one can be hugely beneficial in providing advice, resources and encouragement students would not find elsewhere.

Some of the best and most valuable learning happens one-on-one with mentors. Mentors listen, care and engage. They share with us their wisdom — they help us make sense of life so that we can do and be our very best.”
Lloyd Thacker, Executive Director, The Education Conservancy

The summer provides an opportune break in student’s hectic schedules to seek out role models and potential mentors and there are many many things to keep in mind during the process.

Determine your needs. A mentor is simply a person with greater knowledge and experience who is willing to share. It is up to you to determine exactly what area you need help with or what direction you want to take your career in and decide what type of person would be best suited as a mentor. Take the time to establish specific goals. Are you overwhelmed by campus and college life? Do you need help getting your foot in the door with a specific employer? Do you want to improve your skills? Are you looking for someone to challenge and inspire you?Mentors can range from older students, professionals and employers to professors, alumni, or leaders in the community. Many people can serve as mentors and you are not limited to just one!

Utilize your resources to find a mentor. Meeting the right person is probably the most difficult aspect of finding a mentor. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your network of current and past professors, supervisors from jobs and internships, school counselors, and even friends and family for help connecting with potential mentors. Go to local events and conferences and make an effort to meet new people. Contact your department to learn what mentorship programs are available to you. It may not even be necessary to find a mentor in your local area. Technology provides so many ways to connect that your mentor may be someone you have never met before and may never meet in person.  Make a list of potential role models; you don’t need to jump on the first name you come across.

Be prepared. Know your needs and be ready to discuss what you hope to gain from a mentorship. Learn how to appropriately use social media to utilize your network. If you need specific tips on how to reach out to people there are many books available on the subject including Never Eat Alone. Once you have several names of potential mentors carefully consider which person is the best fit to help you achieve your goals and don’t be afraid to ask for their help. If you find it hard to boldly ask “Will you be my mentor?” begin by establishing a relationship by asking thoughtful questions and working up to asking for a mentorship. Giving your mentor a detailed description of what you would like them to help you with is often the best method of handling this type of relationship. If your first choice says no don’t be defeated, they may simply be too busy at the moment to help you. Just be sure that you have been given a definite no before moving on to another name on your list.

Maintain a healthy mentoring relationship. Remember, a mentor’s role is to help you succeed, not to do things for you. Don’t expect to be handed a job just because you asked for a mentor. Instead, take a genuine interest in what your mentor does and how you can learn from them. Establish a method and frequency of your mentorship that works for all parties. Will you meet your mentor for lunch once a month or will you keep up an ongoing email correspondence? Mentorships can take many forms so be sure good communication is there from the beginning. Be sure to show your gratitude for you mentor. Send them a hand written thank you note and you will ensure your mentor feels useful and appreciated. Always maintain a professional relationship with your mentor. You may find that one day they may come across a job lead and you may be the first candidate they think of and you don’t wan that spoiled by a messy emotional relationship.

Finally, if you have had a beneficial experience with a mentor consider becoming one yourself. Being a mentor helps with building your leadership skills while feeling the satisfaction that comes with giving back. Please describe your experiences with mentorships in the comments section below.

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