Written by Nada Haridy

Are you a few years into your graduate program and are beginning to feel lost about your career plans? Or do you have a dream career, but are not sure how to pursue it? In both cases, these are precisely the reasons why you should find a mentor.

On October 27th, the LSCDS held another practically informative event, which addressed the importance of finding a mentor in your field of interest. The speakers, David Sealey, Manager of Regulatory Affairs at Janssen, and Nana Lee, Director of the Graduate Professional Development program at the University of Toronto, also gave tips and shared their input on how to approach the matter. Both speakers stressed key advantages of having a mentor, explained the process of finding one, and provided some of the resources that may be beneficial to graduate students in their pursuit of a mentor.

Why Should I Find a Mentor?

As a mentee, there is a plethora of resources that are at your disposal. Firstly, due to their expertise and broader exposure, mentors can inform you of the array of careers that specifically complement your skills and interests, many of which you may be oblivious to. Secondly, if you happen to be interested in their field of work, then they can familiarize you with the nature of the job and the qualifications that you need to develop before pursuing the position, so that your job application is facilitated. Moreover, both speakers agreed that having a mentor is an exemplary way of networking through the interplay of your and his/her network.

How Do I Find a Mentor?

There are different ways of finding a mentor. Formal mentorship programs exist where a mentor and mentee are assigned to one another based on interests, like the LSCDS Mentorship Program, for instance. There are also informal ways, like directly contacting a person whose work you are interested in. This may be your PI, one of your PI’s connections, or a committee member. If that is not the case, you can still attend networking events and converse with the attendants. If you are at a conference presenting your work, take advantage of the event and speak to the vendors. Other useful platforms include LinkedIn, Life Sciences Ontario Knowledge and Networking Breakfast Forum, and Backpack to Briefcase.

If you are not in a formal mentorship program, how do you ask someone to become your mentor? To start with, you should not email someone and say, “Hi, will you be my mentor?” Instead, a mentor-mentee relationship starts with an informational interview, and develops naturally with time. Let’s say you found someone on LinkedIn whose career appeals to you, and you decided you would like to know more, so you contacted that person to ask for an informational interview. Here is some advice on what to include in your message:

1. Describe the subject of the email as “Informational Interview Request [Last Name].”
2. Begin by addressing the person specifically; avoid just saying “Hello.”
3. Focus on the person’s interests, not yours.
4. Avoid describing your research project and the use of acronyms; be concise and straight to the point.
5. Mention a mutual connection if present (for example, if it is someone your PI has collaborated with in the past, you may mention that).
6. Ask politely to meet for 30 minutes over a cup of coffee or a phone call.
7. Respect their time and say thank you.
8. Always include an email signature.

Next Steps?

After the meeting, if your interests have aligned, the key to building a relationship is keeping in touch. The other important factor to realize is that a mentor-mentee relationship is a two-way street. In addition to you benefiting from the expertise of your mentor, you should also offer your professional help when possible. Finally, with the new year coming up soon, many of us will be making new resolutions. Let one of yours be “find a mentor” if you do not already have one. Step by step, you will find that some of your fuzzy career plans are starting to clear up, and the stress of not knowing what to do with your life is washing away.