Field Guide to Mentors

Mar 26 2012 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Once again, the importance of mentorship came up online. This topic crosses boundaries at will, with everyone seeking mentors for all aspects of life. Amazon currently lists 9,365 entries in books for the term "mentor." A Pubmed search shows 8,142 entries for mentor, with one article from 1912 using the term.

Telemachus and Mentor

Mentors are clearly desirable and important for success. Go read some of those 8,000+ articles if you do not believe me. So you want a mentor.

Where do you find one of these seemingly magical beings who can impart wisdom? You probably will not find one.

You will need several. No one person will supply all aspects of mentorship.

Instead of searching for a mentor, think about having a personal Board of Directors. These can be colleagues or acquaintances, senior or junior to you. Some may provide minimal help, others may truly take you under wing and meticulously groom you for success. Some will lead by example. Others may be great sounding-boards when you need to think out loud. You will find these folks through networking within and outside of your institution.

Do not think I am speaking only to the n00bs out there. As a full professor, I still have mentors. Sometimes we mentor each other, but you never become too senior to need advice and counsel.

Roles of mentors can include:

  • Career coach
  • Institutional historian
  • Professional booster
  • Reality check-point
  • Role model

Unless you are required to designate a mentor, I would not ask people to take on the role. The task sounds overwhelming, and many may shy away from such responsibility, feeling inadequate. Instead, converse as needed with them as issues arise. Sometimes you only realize you have been mentored in retrospect!

Even Odysseus recognized the need for multiple life coaches. When he went to war, he left his son, Telemachus, with guidance from Mentor and Eumaeus, the foster son of Odysseus. The Goddess Athena had a habit of taking the form of Mentor, making him the more valuable of the two. Or maybe we just chose that name because it's easier to spell.


4 responses so far

  • Alma Dzib Goodin says:

    It's true!
    Mentors are important, and not only about education, some companies are open their eyes to mentors as a need. Employees are mentoring to others to grow all together.
    Excellent reflexion!

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    I did not get mentored much as a student. As a result, my dissertation was not as good as it could have been. However, on the other hand, on becoming an Associate Professor, I immediately started several successful independent research projects. At the same time, I saw colleagues, smarter, better educated, and harder working than me, who could not get it together. I think it was because they were heavily mentored throughout their student years, and had no facility for working without guidance.

  • [...] pretty generally accepted that mentorship matters at every career stage, but as someone early in my career, it seems that the first advice I’m [...]

Leave a Reply