How to Choose a Mentor Deborah Cotton MD, MPH
Why Be Careful About Choosing a Mentor? • They can be life-long advocates or life-long adversaries • They can steer you to a perfect first project or start you on a career-ending path • They can help you form good habits or bad • They can be very hard to leave and harder to get over
Why is a Mentor not important? • Many people have succeeded without a mentor, or after a bad “mentoring” experience • Many people have failed despite having a great mentor, and a stellar mentoring experience • There are many kinds of “mentoring” • Peer mentoring • Dual mentoring ( mentor for content, mentor for methods) • Self mentoring • Mentoring you ‘absorb’ from the culture
Job One- Know Yourself • Reflect on your strengths and weaknesses • Articulate your goals • “Know what you don’t know” • About the field • About academic medicine • About the research process itself
Do your homework first • Not to impress but to really understand their work • What is his/her publication record? • Do papers build on a theme? • Has publication been steady and is it continuing? • What tier journals does he/she publish in? • Are methods sound? • Is the work innovative? • Are you enjoying reading ( even though it may be hard) • What is his/her funding record (use CRISP) • Has it been steady and substantial? • Does he/she have institutional training grants • Ask for c.v. • Do an internet search
Starting the Process • Make sure you know the entire universe of possible mentors • Know the rules: • When do you have to choose and how? • Can you work with people outside the section? • Are some mentors “ taken” and what does that mean? • Go to see anybody you think there is any chance you would like to work with • Do not reject people on basis of topic,appearances, rumors, whim • Do not choose someone simply because you have similar traits or they ‘seem nice’
Common Mistakes when Approaching Possible Mentors • Fear of rejection- “I’m not good enough” • Fear of competition from other trainees • Being influenced/forced to choose only from certain mentors • Deciding too hastily • Being too “romantic” • Looking for “brand status”
“Quality Measures” of Mentors • Professorial rank (adjusted for age and field) • Track record with trainees • Academic appointments and professorial rank of former trainees • Publication record of former trainees • # of current trainees • PI of mentoring award (K30, K24, T32, foundations)? • Word of mouth reputation as a mentor
“Quality Measures” of a Research Environment • Weekly conferences/journal clubs • Stable research staff that are well treated • Dedicated and adequate research space • Good mix of MDs, PhDs, methodologists • Positive spirit of competition • Evidence of collaborative opportunities • High status of group in institution
Interviewing with a Potential Mentor • Introduce yourself • Do not presume they know: • you ( even if you worked with them in clinical setting) • your background or your previous work • your previous mentors (even if “famous”!) • Be positive about your qualifications • THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO DISCUSS YOUR INSECURITIES
Things to Observe When Interviewing a Potential Mentor • Do they treat the interview seriously? • Promptness • Attention • Avoid Interruptions • Give you Adequate Time • What do they talk about in the interview? • Their work? • Themselves? • You? • The future of the field? • Their expectations of you, of themselves as mentors?
Is the Mentor someone whom you would like to become? • In his/her own career, what relative emphasis does mentor place on: • Research • Education • Patient Care • Administration • “Extracurricular activities”
Positive Attributes in a Mentor • Seems excited about his/her work • Respected by current trainees • Knowledgeable about field • Known in field (“ a connector”) • Does not hold excessive grudges, or have lots of enemies • Does not blame research failures on others • Organized • FAIR!!!!
Negative Qualities in a Mentor • “Not there”- physically, mentally, or emotionally • Disorganized • Unreliable • Insecure • Inappropriate in word or action- have zero tolerance • Questionable research integrity
What you may be asked in an interview with a Potential Mentor • Why did you come to see me? • Do you have experience? • Where do you see yourself in five, 10 years? • Things they cannot ask about: • Religion, illness/disability, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, childbearing plans
What a Potential Mentor May Be Thinking • Will this person: • “fit in”? • Make unusual or excessive demands? • Slow things up? • Criticize me/us?
Go to the Source • Try to talk to former, current trainees in person • Emphasize that this is in confidence-AND MEAN IT!!! • Frame the questions appropriately: • “Tell me about your background and how you chose this mentor/research group/research topic.?” • “What are the strengths and “challenges” of this environment?” • Does mentor have enough ideas, tech skills, time? • Can you bring problems to mentor? • How are projects assigned? • How does mentor manage competition? • Is mentor fair to all trainees or play favorites?
But be Cautious ….. • Remember that the trainee you are talking to may have his/her own agenda • May see you as threat/competition • For mentors time,attention • For ideas • For space and equipment • May see you as burden
After you interview a potential mentor • Send thank-you note/email • Do what they suggest at interview • If they give you papers, read them • If they tell you to see others in organization, see them • If they offer to meet again, go
Launch a campaign • Know who else is applying • Think of how you can distinguish yourself from that person(s) • Get current trainees on your side • Try to get objective advice to weigh candidates • From fellowship director • From section chief • From others
ACHIEVING CLOSURE • REMEMBER THAT FACULTY HAVE FEELINGS TOO • When you choose a mentor, let each candidate you interviewed know. • Cite your interest in another topic, don’t frame this as wanting to work more with another person