How to Find the Right Mentor for Your Entomology Career
By Jocelyn R. Holt
Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series contributed by the ESA Student Affairs Committee. See other posts by and for entomology students here at Entomology Today.
What is a Mentor?
“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the higher part of yourself when sometimes it becomes hidden to your own view.” —Oprah Winfrey
At every stage in our lives or careers, we need mentors to guide us through personal and professional milestones. A mentor can inspire new ideas on time management, studying, teaching, writing, or any other part of your professional life. Mentors provide advice on important decisions that stem from their personal experience and expertise.
Mentorship can be an official, documented interaction set up through a program such as a research advisor, or it can be a more informal interaction where you identify someone who is an expert in a particular skill and ask them for advice. An important aspect to remember is that different individuals may be great mentors for particular areas. For example, I have a research and writing mentor, a teaching mentor, and an efficiency mentor, to name a few. Each mentor provides me with insight that helps me become a more productive and successful version of myself.
Regardless of the official title an individual has, a person who functions as your mentor or advisor should have your best interest in mind. A mentor should provide you with useful information or access to resources that allow you to grow personally or professionally in your scientific career.
Identify a Potential Mentor
First, think of areas that you would like to improve either in your personal or professional life. Then identify potential mentors that have an area of expertise that you would like to improve. Ask yourself, “How will this person allow me to become a better researcher, writer, teacher, or communicator?” Importantly, a mentor does not need to share all of the same values and perspectives that you do. In fact, differences in experiences and perspectives help us to expand our world views. Since this person will provide you with advice in areas in which you feel deficient particularly during stressful situations, it is important to select a mentor that you trust and respect.
When I look for a potential mentor, I review their expertise and ask my peers about their interactions with them. I find that asking a potential mentor if they have time to talk (either face-to-face or via email) is a good way to engage someone, especially if you do not know them well. At the end of the conversation, I often know if the interaction was positive, which allows me to follow up with future questions or a formal mentorship request. Communicating well with someone promotes a beneficial interaction during the mentoring process and may increase the likelihood that both mentor and mentee gain something from the experience.
Remember that an experienced mentor will identify possible obstacles and solutions before you do. This person may not always tell you what you would like to hear; however, constructive feedback can go a long way in developing a better skillset. And if a person is unable to serve as your mentor, do not be discouraged. People have busy lives and their plate may already be full of commitments. Identify a new potential mentor and try again.
Meet With Potential Mentors at ESA
If you have identified potential mentors that are not in the same location as you, contact them and introduce yourself. This technique can work for contacting graduate school or postdoc advisors. Make sure to explain your interest in working with them or having them as a mentor. You should also communicate the expertise that you have to contribute and areas of research that you are interested in expanding. At the end of your communication, ask if they are attending ESA’s Annual Meeting and if you can meet with them there.
When I was looking for graduate schools, I emailed potential advisors to express my interest in working with them and described how my previous research experience would make me a good fit with their labs. ESA provided a great opportunity for me to converse with these potential mentors and to understand their personality and research philosophies. During our conversations, I made sure to discuss research and publication expectations, work schedules, and anticipated funding sources. I found that having these discussions helped me determine the mentors and opportunities that were a good fit for me.
And, even if you are not actively searching for a mentor or advisor, ESA can be a great opportunity to catch up with former mentors.
Invest in Yourself
“No one succeeds alone. Never walk alone in your future paths.”—Sonia Sotomayor
If you need additional insight, make sure to reach out and find a supportive mentor. A mentor can be someone further along in their career than you, or someone similar in age who you consider a friend. Although we each have to put in our own work to become successful, the insight of a mentor can allow us to see the world in a different perspective, and this perspective can facilitate success.
I hope that these tips have inspired you to find your right mentor. If you already have mentors, consider touching base with your current mentors or reaching out and becoming a mentor for someone else.