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finding a good mentor: asking the right questions

As I (and many many others as well) have previously written, finding a supportive mentor is all about asking the right questions of both the prospective mentor as well as the mentor’s trainees.  As you are going through the process, think about these qualities that you may find desirable in a mentor:

  • accessibility: does the mentor have an open door and an approachable attitude?  is the mentor around or often away on trips/conferences?
  • empathy: does the mentor have insight into what the trainee is experiencing?
  • open-mindedness: does the mentor have respect for the trainee’s individuality, autonomy, working styles and career goals that may be different from mentor?
  • consistency: is the mentor reliable in action and principles?
  • patience: does the mentor understand that success can sometimes depend as much on luck as hard work?  does the mentor understand that people make mistakes and learn at their own rates?
  • honesty: does the mentor communicate truth–whether good or bad–about the trainee’s work, the world and the trainee’s chances out there
  • savvy: does the mentor have a sense (and communicates it) of the pragmatic aspects of career development?
  • loyal: does the mentor value the trainee’s contributions and support as well as defend the trainee from outsiders trying to take advantage of the trainee?

I have previously written at length about finding a good mentor for both the research and medical careers and what a good mentor can mean.  I harp on this point over and over again because good mentorship is key to kicking off a successful career.  So if you are looking at a prospective mentor, try to hone in on these qualities and when talking to the mentor’s trainees in private, specifically ask.  Better to find out sooner rather than later when it may be too late.


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