The selection phase begins by taking the time to gain clarity about your strengths, goals, and areas of development. The more information you can communicate in investigatory meetings with potential mentors the better the ultimate fit will be. Review the material below to set yourself up for a successful match.
Mentee Responsibilities in the Selection phase:
- Have a clear understanding of your motivation to be mentored
- Select a mentor based on pre-established criteria relevant to your career goals
- Broaden your search for multiple mentors to include faculty outside your department
- Take the initiative
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Individual Development Plans (IDPs)
A well-crafted Individual Development Plan (IDP) acts as both a planning and a communication tool, allowing you to identify your research and career goals and to communicate these goals to your mentors, PIs, advisors, department chairs and others. Included below are several templates to help you get started.
Finding a Mentor
No hard and fast rules exist for finding a mentor. At times, the partnership evolves organically between a senior faculty member and a junior faculty member or trainee with the same research or clinical interests. Often, it is you as the junior person who takes the initiative in finding a mentor on your own.
What are some strategies peers have found helpful for finding a mentor?
The more you can learn about the research environment, the style of your mentor, as well as his/her expectations, the better the assessment of fit and the better your experience will be. Consider the following strategies for finding a mentor:
- Begin by clarifying your own goals, skills, and areas of interest. Use your Individual Development Plan to begin a conversation with a potential mentor.
- Interview mentors. Set up an investigatory meeting where you can informally explore a potential relationship. Here are some interview questions you might consider asking.
- Interview current and previous mentees/lab members. Doing so will help you understand the mentor’s philosophical and practical approaches to mentoring. Current lab members might also become your colleagues and it is important for you to feel like they are peers with whom you want to collaborate.
- Seek advice broadly. This includes getting suggestions from department chairs, peers, Deans, and web resources.
- Don’t be afraid to look for a mentor outside of your department. While the literature tends to recommend your primary mentor’s research area overlap with your own, scholars also advocate for successful partnerships with mentors outside of their department, especially given the interdisciplinary nature of clinical and translational research. If your primary mentor is from a different department, consider asking a member of your department to serve as a secondary mentor on your committee to help communicate and negotiate departmental expectations.
- Think team. It is difficult for one person to meet all of your mentoring needs, especially when your research is exploring new areas of investigation or when your research is engaged with specific communities inside and outside the university.
- Chemistry matters. A mentor is not only someone who will provide you with information and resources, but the person you will turn to when things are not going according to plan. Finding someone whom you trust and has your best interest at heart will make navigating those difficult times easier.
- Give yourself time. Finding a good mentor match will likely mean meeting first with multiple people until you find “the one.” Don’t rush the process or sell yourself short by saying “yes” to the first person who expresses interest in you and your work.
What are the crucial attributes or competencies of a mentor?
The role a primary mentor will play will vary depending on your career stage and it will evolve over time. Generally speaking, though, you should look for someone whom you can trust, respect, and who will be reliably accessible when needed.
A competency is built from the intersection of knowledge, skills and attitudes. Kathy Kram’s work helps us understand two primary areas of the mentoring relationship to which a mentor should attend to and build competency around: Career Development and Psychosocial Support. Abedin et al. further extrapolate 6 thematic areas for those mentoring in the sciences and clinical and translational research, including:
- Communication and Relationship Management
- Psychosocial Support
- Career and Professional Development
- Professional Enculturation and Scientific Integrity
- Research Development
- Clinical and Translational Investigator Development
This table provides associated competencies and examples of the competency in action: Mentor Competencies Table (PDF)
What are some questions to help assess fit?
Mentors and mentees alike should take the time early on to determine whether a particular mentoring arrangement “has legs”. Is this mentor (or team of mentors) the most appropriate considering your current developmental needs and long term professional goals?
When cultivating your list of potential mentors, consider the following questions to help assess fit.
Frequent conversations, especially early in the relationship, will help you assess fit and begin to develop the necessary trust for a successful relationship. Use the Assessment Fit Checklist to ensure your conversations have covered appropriate ground and resulted in a shared commitment.
Building a Mentor Team
It is likely that you will need more than one mentor to help address your disparate needs: for example, one who is skilled at helping with research design may not be able to help you deal with a difficult colleague or balance home and professional demands and vice versa.
Resources & Suggested Readings
Topics include: Selecting a mentor, Mentor alignment, “Is this profession for you?”
- Bettmann, M. (2009). Choosing a research project and a research mentor. Circulation, 119(13), 1832-1835.
- Carey, E. C., & Weissman, D. E. (2010). Understanding and finding mentorship: A review for junior faculty. Journal of Palliative Medicine, 13(11), 1373-1379.
- Gusic, M. E., Zenni, E. A., Ludwig, S., & First, L. R. (2010). Strategies to design an effective mentoring program. The Journal of Pediatrics, 156(2), 173-174.
- Reckelhoff, J. (2008). How to choose a mentor. American Psysiological Society, 51(4).
- Burnham E, Fleming M. (2011). Selection of Research Mentors for K-Funded Scholars. Journal of Clinical and Translational Science, 4(2): 87-92.
- Cho, C. S., Ramanan, R. A., & Feldman, M. D. (2011). Defining the ideal qualities of mentorship: A qualitative analysis of the characteristics of outstanding mentors. The American Journal of Medicine, 124(5), 453-458.
- Ensher, E., & Murphy, S. (1997). Effects of race, gender, perceived similarity, and contact on mentor relationships. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 50(3), 460-481.
- Farrell, S.E., Digioia, N.M., Broderick, K.B., Coates, W.C. (2004). Mentoring for clinician-educators. Academic Emergency Medicine, 11(12), 1346-1350.
- Jackson, V. A., Palepu, A., Szalacha, L., Caswell, C., Carr, P. L., & Inui, T. S. (2003). “Having the right chemistry”: A qualitative study of mentoring in academic medicine. Academic Medicine, 78(3), 328-334.
- Shepard, M. E., Sastre, E. A., Davidson, M. A., & Fleming, A. E. (2012). Use of individualized learning plans among fourth-year sub-interns in pediatrics and internal medicine. Medical Teacher, 34(1), e46-51.