How to choose an academic mentor

What to look for in a potential mentor

The early stages of developing an academic career can be challenging, especially in securing a permanent position, which can easily take up to five years. Finding the right academic mentor to help you navigate this early part of your career can be incredibly helpful. When you begin your search for the best person to mentor you, there are several avenues to explore. Dr Lynda Tait, a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham, sets out key points to consider when looking for an academic mentor:

– See if there is an institutional mentoring scheme. Research intensive universities usually have a formal scheme established, but it will be up to you to initiate the process.
– Clarify why you want a mentor. Think about your career and personal goals, and consider your own skills set and what additional skills you would like to acquire.
– Before approaching someone to be a mentor find out as much information as you can about them, both at a professional level and at a relational level.
– Invite a potential mentor for an informal chat to see if you hold similar values, how much time they would be able to give you, and what sort of format the relationship would take (more formal or informal), depending on what you are both looking for.

Choosing a mentor in medicine

There is much research to support the importance of mentorship in helping facilitate the future success of your academic career. The benefits range from being a more productive researcher to greater career satisfaction and being better prepared in making career decisions. Michael Bettmann, MD, Professor and Vice Chair of Interventional Services, Department of Radiology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine has a published post, Choosing a Research Project, on The American Heart Association Journal site.

Professor Bettmann outlines the benefits of choosing both a great research project and brilliant mentor. The relationship needs commitment from both the mentor and the mentee as well as clear goals. He highlights the fact that the relationship between mentor and mentee will develop and change as careers progress.

In terms of the research that has been done on the subject, Professor Bettmann states that is mainly subjective and is often focused on how to improve mentoring skills. He says that not much has been written on how to choose a mentor. In his post, he writes about the many different pathways to research and career choices post-project. He illustrates the considerations of your choices of mentor using figures and tables. These illustrations cover the types of mentor and mentee relationships and the characteristics of a successful mentor and mentee.

Professor Bettmann lists several common pitfalls to avoid in choosing a mentor and, in summary, states that it is clearly a complex and dynamic process.

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