Here’s a short 2 minute video by Sheryl Sandberg discussing the importance of mentorship.
First rule of finding a mentor: DON’T ASK SOMEONE TO MENTOR YOU. Cringe-worthy. Worse yet is that no one tells you these things.
What I’ve learned during my years in academia is that it comes down to your performance and your potential.
Mentorships happen copacetically; they cannot be forced. They occur when a mentor sees potential in someone and offers something of value to further encourage that growth. This connection between the two people is reciprocal, and when done correctly both benefit. No one wants to mentor someone they don’t get along with.
My own mentor experience: After a presentation in one of my sociology courses as an undergrad, my professor Dr. Lorne Tepperman pulled me aside after class and told me how articulate and confident I sounded when I spoke. He asked me if I’d be interested in being part of his work-study team. I distinctly remember feeling super special and immediately called my mom to tell her that my sociology professor “thinks I’m smart enough to be on his team!” Fast forward 12 + years and he’s still mentoring me. I’ve worked on every major research project he’s had and his recommendations have turned into dozens of other opportunities for me. And each and every time I work for him I give him 150%. I don’t ask for overtime, I just do the work and do it spectacularly well. And now I pay it forward, by mentoring young women myself.
How do you find a mentor? First thing you need to do is catch their attention in a good way. Become familiar to this person. Work with them, for them, alongside them or volunteer for them.
If you don’t know them yet, you need to pitch them with those 30-second, one-minute, or two-minute elevator pitches that you’ve practiced with military precision. You better be prepared!
Take advantage of every (networking) or chance meeting in the hallway, coffee shop or parking lot. These are brief but essential moments for you to push through the crowd and stand out. Have something meaningful to say and be prepared to execute your pitch at a moment’s notice.
A great mentor will push you past your comfort zone. Mentors believe in your capabilities but won’t take any crap from you either. They’ll force you to start taking ownership for your career and your success, and encourage you to do things you never thought possible. Great mentors have been fundamental to where I am today and have encouraged me every step of the way before, during, and beyond my Ph.D.
If you’re not a go-getter, no one’s getting you. Get it?
Look for like-minded peers and mentor each other. Don’t discount the value that peers can provide. Support, validation, and encouragement from people like yourself who are fiercely going after their goals is a gift. Harness that positive energy.
But remember, a mentorship is a professional relationship. Friendships may develop over time, but never forget this is professional. Take it seriously. Nobody wants to hand-hold you, so maximize your opportunities. Learn everything you can. Then pay it forward when it’s your turn.
I like to remind myself of how important it is to pay it forward by constantly re-reading this quote by Melinda Gates: