On Finding a Mentor

Ah, mentor-hunting. Not as hard as it sounds, if you follow a few simple guidelines.

So what is a mentor?

It is someone who is invested in your study just as you are; someone to bounce ideas off of; someone to ask questions of; someone to guide you if something goes awry. A teacher who happens to be an expert in your field.

  • Keep your eyes peeled

Mentors are literally everywhere if you take the time to look. They don’t have to be some strange professor at a foreign university. Teachers, parents, friends’ parents, family friends…the list is endless.

I found that the more people knew about my research, the more potential mentors I found. On a casual visit to my neighbor’s house, in fact, I discovered that my friend’s dad was close friends with a guy who worked in my field exactly.

Badda-bing badda-boom.

The bottom line is that people get excited when us younger folks are interested in things other than sports and teeny-bop music, and if you share your research experiences with them, you will find a plethora of open arms and listening ears.

  • Know who you’re dealing with

Sometimes we’re in one of those I-need-help-now scenarios. In this case it’s perfectly fine to do some internet research to find that help.

Look for professors and scientists doing research in your field. But, before you contact them, look a little further into what they’re currently working on. Are they in the midst of an experiment? Have they recently published a journal article?

It will make this person 1,000 times more likely to help you out if you can reference something like this when you contact them. It shows that you have a serious interest in their work specifically (even if this isn’t 100% true).

  • Keep it inquisitive

I love my research science teacher to death, but I think I’ve found a much better way to approach a potential mentor than she has instructed me. She told our class to send out emails similar to the following (filling in the blanks, of course):

Dear Dr. Please-Help-Me, 

            I am a student at ______ enrolled in a course called _____. I am looking to conduct a study in the field of _____. During my study I hope to find out ______.

            I am writing to you to request some assistance. I am trying to find a professional who has experience in this field outside of my teacher to help guide me with my research. I was wondering if you would be willing to mentor me with my study. I need someone who would be willing to: ____.

            I am hoping to find a mentor within __(time)__ so that I can get started on my project. I have a __(time)__ frame in which I am working to carry out my study.

            Please contact me via email if you would be willing to assist me. Thank you for your consideration and time.


Your Name

I’ve found that the response rate for this approach was much lower than if I had emailed a professor with just a few questions that I thought they could answer quickly. These types of “quick questions” often turn into deeper discussions that often turn into mentorships on their own.

Short, sweet, interesting.

  • Keep them updated

Keeping constant contact with your mentor is important. Send them updated drafts of whatever you’re working on (research plan, protocol) as well as information on where your study is headed.

Even if you don’t need their help at that particular moment, you very well may need it soon. And nothing’s more annoying than that friend who only calls you when they need your help.

  • Keep trying!

As I mentioned in my Advice to a Young Scientist post, this whole process may take a little while (for me, about 15 emails)- remember that having a professional guide is invaluable. Try email, a phone call, even a formal letter.

If you need any help with your search, please contact me! (getoutthereblog(at)yahoo.com) I’ll do my best to get you started.

‘Til next time.

P.S.- Mentors really are everywhere. Check it out!