When it comes time to do your life’s work, there are no short cuts. Â Finding the right mentor however, can help you avoid wasting time and barking up the wrong tree. One of the great things about having a mentor is that all of a sudden you have access to their years of experience â€” now you know the best of what they know.
The academic (especially grad school) setting is perhaps one of the easiest mentorship relationships to begin, as there is already a system in place. Â In business or sports or the arts, you may have to go seek a mentor on your own, outside of a framework. Â Additionally, professors in the research fields that take on PhD students have chosen that position because they want to teach young scientists, and they have a good amount of practice. Finding a mentor in mid to late career is ideal to maximize experience, motivation, and network.
The way I found my mentor was fairly straightforward. Â I found somebody that I sorta wanted to be like in 10 or 20 years. Â I wanted someone who would be encouraging and also challenging. Â Find someone that sets high expectations, and you will rise to meet them.
Knowing that a potential mentor has a list ofÂ successfulÂ proteges who have gone out into the world and done remarkable things is another good aspect to consider.Â The challenging part was figuring out what I had to offer to a scientist who had people from all over the world banging on his door to come work for him. At a university you often have the luxury of having multiple conversations with and learning about a person before you approach them to study under and can tailor your proposal to what they are looking for.
One of the side benefits that I see in the academic system is that sooner or later, you will graduate with a degree and be forced to go out on your own. A common pitfall can be staying too long under the wing of someone great. Getting your degree and leaving your institution demands that you go forth and begin your own work, which is where you begin to be truly creative and achieve the greatest things.