by Carmen Jacob for Upjourney
People in all kinds of careers would benefit from having mentors. But it can be difficult to ask someone if they can be your mentor because it can be intimidating, you don't know who to ask, or you don't know how to ask.
In this article, 27 experts in various industries, including science, business, and finance, give tips and recommendations on how to ask someone to be your mentor. My advice was:
Be prepared to answer some questions
I’ve had students ask me to be their mentor just because someone else told them that it would be a good idea. Whether the person who recommended me was another student or even the person’s academic adviser, the potential mentee must be prepared to answer the question – Why?
Your answer should include why you are seeking a mentor at this time? Are you moving to a different department and need advice about that? Is there a particular reason why you are seeking me specifically as a mentor?
Answering the question -Why?- will help clarify the goals of the mentorship.
What kind of advice you are looking for?
Do you need advice on career advancement? Are you looking for someone to help you with a particular research methodology? Are you looking for someone to take a look at your resume to see if you are ready for a promotion?
The more specific you can be in the “What?” the more prepared you will be to know whether you are getting what you need from the mentoring relationship.
Think of how the mentoring relationship will progress
Will you meet in person, by phone, online? Will you check-in once a month or as needed? Will you meet at the office, for a coffee? The How of the mentoring process should be negotiated and should be open to change depending on need.
However, some programs require that students meet with their mentors regularly; therefore, I need to know that in advance, to determine whether I can serve the mentee in the way they need."
So, think about these three questions, the WHY you want this person to be your mentor; the WHAT you want this person to mentor you on and what would be the expected outcomes; and the HOW you want them to mentor you.
Advice from the other 26 experts included:
Previous blog posts on this topic can be found HERE.
Halloween is a time to celebrate everything scary. We laugh at witches and ghosts and dress up as the Addams family. But what do we do when real fear holds us back from achieving our greatest potential?
I have mentored hundreds of graduate and medical students, most of whom are underrepresented minorities. We get into in-depth conversations about their career choices and the opportunities and the obstacles that stand in their way. Some common patterns emerge, including fears. Fear can be healthy. It can keep us from harm. But fear can also be paralyzing. As Franklin D. Roosevelt once said: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Below are some of the fears that I have found most commonly in my students and some of my advice to them:
Fear of making the wrong decision: I would say that this is their fear numero uno! Many of my students are already deep into a career path. They are already out of college; most of them have already graduated with a bachelor’s degree in the sciences. Now they are deciding what to do next. They ask things like “Should I go to med school?” “Master’s program?” “Ph.D.?” and worst of all, they ask; “Did I make a mistake choosing my major in college?” They have so many choices in front of them that, as if it weren’t hard enough, they second-guess choices they no longer have because those choices were made in the past.Too many choices can paralyze a person with indecision because the fear of making the “wrong” decision is too strong. In his book The Paradox of Choice, psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that too many choices create anxiety. He recommends a systematic approach toward making a choice that involves six steps. Some helpful choice-making steps from this book that students can apply to make their career decisions are:
FOMO: Yes. Fear of missing out is a big one for my students. This one is about fearing that the career path they didn’t choose is more: fun, lucrative, fulfilling, etc. than the one they chose. This fear is intensified when they view posts on social media or messages from people who did choose that other career path.
As we all know, the day-to-day of any career is much less glamorous in reality than it seems on social media. But my students still fear that other friends or classmates have it better than them because they seem to have made a better choice.
To alleviate this fear, I have told students to look at their own social media postings. Did they post any pictures of the all-nighter they pulled to create a poster for a presentation or did they only post a picture of themselves in front of the poster after it was done? Did they post pictures of themselves working for 12 hours in front of the computer, or a picture of themselves receiving the diploma after their dissertation was accepted?
Just in the same way, what their friends post on social media is not always an accurate representation of the hard work and determination it takes to actually achieve a successful career. Who knows, there’s probably someone out there having a major case of FOMO over the life they think you have. ;)
Fear of disappointment: Many students I see have a fear of disappointing others. Even students who are far into their career experiences want to please their parents, teachers, and mentors and make them proud. For some, this means that they have to pursue a career as a medical doctor because this is something their parents want or expect. Choosing another career path can seem like a terrible disappointment that no good son or daughter would want to impose on their parents.
I try to help students understand two things. First, that it is their own life they are living, not their parents’ lives. Second, I try to reassure my students that their parents will understand (eventually) if they take the “disappointing” career path, as long as they do well in what they choose. However, I must admit that sometimes this is not exactly the case. Some parents are really vested in their children’s career choices and others not so much. I’ve had parents call me and tell me how important it is for their child to go to medical school, and have even received a threatening letter when a student was not accepted into my program. I try to explain to these parents that the alternative is worse. Who hasn’t met someone who is miserable in their profession? I bet many of them are miserable because they pursued the profession that their parents chose for them.
A healthier approach to this fear could be having a heart-to-heart conversation with your parents. I know that it can be super scary. But it beats a lifetime of trying to live someone else’s life. Most parents wish a life of fulfillment and happiness for their children. We parents need to understand that sometimes, the career we set out for our children is not the path they can or want to take.
Test Anxiety: Apparently, this is a real thing. Many of my students can know a subject very well, be able to do everything correctly in class, explain all concepts perfectly, and be as sharp and smart as can be. But, when it comes to testing, (especially standardized tests), they fail to show that same brilliance. I have seen students study a whole year to take the GRE then not show up on the day of the exam. I’ve also had several students who, while trying to get into medical school, take the MCAT over and over again, only to get worse scores every time they take it. Putting the issues with standardized testing aside, test anxiety can be a real paralyzing fear for some students.
Of course, feeling some worry and even some fear about taking an important test is normal, and may even be beneficial. That little void at the pit of your stomach can be a good motivator. But when that feeling becomes real cold-sweated fear and doesn’t let you show what you know on a test, that is test anxiety.
According to the Mayo Clinic, these are some of the things you can do to alleviate test anxiety:
Lack of Fear of Student Debt: Interestingly, not so many of my students have expressed financial fears, even though most of them have student loans that are, to me, horrifying. Most don’t mention their student loans unless I ask, which is scary in itself because I think that many students don’t want to face their financial situation. This denial of fear allows them to borrow more money, but at what cost?! I would argue that denial of fear also has its consequences. Having some degree of fear of student debt is be a healthier approach to career decision-making.
Helping our students face their fears, address the ones that block their path to success, and face the real obstacles that can truly derail them is part of our job as mentors. Students, you are not alone in your fears. Being open about your fears and having a plan for dealing with them will set you free.
As scientists, we are used to giving seminars, presentations, and speeches to different audiences. For some people, it is easy. For others like me, it is the stuff nightmares are made of. But no audience is more challenging than a group of children. If you don’t catch their attention quickly and retain it, you are doomed. I have seen colleagues who are brilliant tenured professors in their jobs, have epic fails when presenting to a classroom full of schoolchildren. I know, I’ve been one of the epic fails.
And the thing is, there is an increasing need for engaging children in doing science. To have a more diverse and dynamic scientific workforce, children need to be exposed to role models early and often. They need to see what it might be like for them to be a scientist, that there are scientists who look like them, and that science is, well, awesome!
Here are five quick tips to keep in mind whenever you have an eager and demanding audience of children for your presentation, whether your presentation is on national TV or at your child’s school.
One of the most cringe-worthy videos that I have ever seen online is the one of Senator Dianne Feinstein talking to a group of young climate activists. Agh! The video has everything: interrupting the children, the “I have 30 years of experience,” dismissive comments, and, gasp! Telling a girl of color to “take that back to whoever sent you here” Even the senator’s body language, with her arms crossed and literally talking down to the children is the very definition of condescending. It’s as hard to watch as a terrible car crash. Ugh!
The looks of disappointment, frustration, and sadness on the children’s faces is just heartbreaking. You don’t want to break children’s hearts, do you? If you can stomach watching this video to the end, remember it next time you are talking to children about science or any other topic. Let it be a cautionary tale of what not to do. Believe me, I know. I may have done something like this in the past, especially before I had children. Thankfully, it was not caught on tape, but now I know better. There is no excuse for treating children like this.
Instead of a condescending attitude, try to remind yourself of what you are there to do. You should not expect that the children will learn all that there is to know about your topic from that one presentation. Your purpose is to encourage their curiosity and to leave them inspired. Remember that. See the infamous video here: https://youtu.be/jEPo34LCss8
When you are the real you, it is palpable. If you love your career in science, this will naturally show through your presentation, whether you are funny or serious. One way to get yourself into it is to start your presentation by saying something about that moment. Offering a comment about the nice room where you are giving the presentation, or the weather, or anything that is happening in the now, will get you in touch with yourself at that moment and help you feel more present.
In my presentations, I just try to let my real personality show and be authentic. Even if that gets me off the script a little bit, it helps me to get into it and enjoy giving the presentation.
There is a whole field of study on communicating science to the general public. Sometimes, it is not so easy to do. Use any tools that may help you visualize and explain your concepts. Can you use analogies? Can you create an infographic? Can you make a diagram or use props to illustrate your ideas? Think creatively. The act of simplifying your content to its core will also help you in generating new ideas and seeing your science with a different perspective. It is worth also doing this when you are presenting to diverse audiences that are not in your field, and even for grant proposals.
We have studied how groups of lay audiences, such as study participants, can gain increased knowledge when complex information is presented in simple but impactful formats. Here is one of our studies in this area: https://www.drluzclaudio.com/uploads/2/6/2/6/26264188/claudio_et_al_communicating_environmental_health.pdf
And above all, do not reject invitations to speak at your local elementary schools as unimportant or a waste of your time. You never know if you will spark an idea in a young mind. This happened to me as a young person. The first time I met an actual working scientist, I was in 12th grade. It was the US energy crisis, and scientists from Oak Ridge National Laboratory came to my school in Puerto Rico to teach us how to save energy. I will never forget the scientist’s presentation in which he asked: Which razor saves more energy to the country, the electric razor, or the disposable blade? That was it! I was hooked on science.
Since graduate programs are very focused on a specific subject, they are best for students who are pretty certain of what discipline interests them most.
For an article published in US News and World Report, Ilana Kowarski asked several experts in higher education to explain what is graduate school. Students must weigh the decision to pursue graduate education very carefully and this article is intended to help in that regard.
One common misconception about graduate school is that it is similar to college, but higher education experts say that graduate courses tend to involve more self-directed learning than courses at the undergraduate level.
"Too often, college students or people who only have had a college experience somehow think that graduate school is going to be more of the same, and it's not," says Thomas Plante, a professor of psychology at Santa Clara University in California. "It's going to look very different. So students might be tired of sitting in small plastic seats in large lecture halls and listening to professors drone on and then taking tests and things like that, and they don't realize that often graduate school is not that way at all."
Plante says graduate courses tend to involve small classes as opposed to large lectures, and he notes that grad students are typically engaged in academic research outside of the classroom.
In addition to Dr. Plante's comment, I was quoted as follows:
"Luz Claudio, a tenured professor with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, says graduate school typically requires an abundance of motivation and personal accountability, since students are frequently asked to work independently.
"I tell college students that one of the keys to success in graduate school is self-discipline," Claudio wrote in an email. "There's generally no 'homework,' quizzes and few exams. Students need to learn how to learn class materials without such close guidance from a teacher. However, most graduate programs have a long-term project that students must complete, such as a research paper. These require a different kind of relationship with a teacher. For these, the teacher becomes more like a mentor and the student is more like an apprentice."
To read more, go to US News & World Report.
You know that warm and fuzzy feeling that you get when walking on a lovely beach at sunset?
Giving a TED Talk was NOT like that.
Giving a TED Talk was more like riding a roller coaster, when you are not a roller-coaster- type-of-person. It was the longest 6:54 minutes of my life. I felt every emotion: fear, excitement, despair, focus, distraction, nausea... then, just like riding a roller coaster, as soon as it was over, I wanted to do it all again.
To answer your second most frequently asked question (FAQ), here are some of the salient points of this experience:
I have been the director of several internship programs for more than 20 years now. I have reviewed thousands of applications from students at all academic levels. What is striking to me is that I see the same mistakes year after year. Different applicants, same mistakes.
Here are three actions students should take when applying for internship programs.
1. QUALIFY- Read all qualification criteria carefully. Do not apply for internships for which you clearly do not qualify. If you are not sure if you qualify, read additional materials or contact the internship organizers. Applying to internships requires a lot of time and effort. Don't waste your time if you do not fit ALL the criteria for acceptance into a program. Rarely, if ever, do programs make exceptions to their entry criteria. Here are some examples of entry criteria that applicants often try to sidestep or ignore:
Once you preview the application requirements, verify everything as follows:
Celebrating 15 Years of the Mount Sinai International Exchange Program, a Global Health Research Training Program for Minority Students
Global environmental health is recognized as the most pressing challenge of our time. A recent report by The Lancet estimated that environmental pollution causes three times more deaths from non-communicable diseases than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined, and that 92% of pollution-related deaths and diseases occur in low and middle income countries. Yet, there are few opportunities for the scientific research workforce is receive training in this area of work.
I have been the director of the Mount Sinai Division of International Health since 2004. Our mission is to partner with scientists in other countries to enhance capacity to identify, document, prevent and mitigate environmental health problems that have the potential to affect morbidity in vulnerable populations, especially children. To do this, we initially trained and nurtured the careers of 52 international scholars in Mexico, Brazil and Chile through the Fogarty-supported ITREOH Program - International Training in Research in Environmental & Occupational Health. We have now expanded our collaborations to 5 additional countries: Argentina, Costa Rica, Spain, South Africa, and Ireland.
My collaborations have developed into close friendships with many international scholars. Now, after so many years, we have collaborated on many research projects and joined forces to mentor a new generation of researchers. Through funding from the National Institute for Minority Health and Health Disparities, my former international fellows and I have provided research training to 140 minority students from the US. Every year, we select 10 students from a national pool of hundreds of amazing applicants, bring them to New York for an intense orientation period and match them with international mentors. The students then spend 11 weeks conducting research in those countries. Upon their return to the US, the students continue to receive support to complete research reports worthy of publication. An astounding number of students, about a third, publish their research in peer-reviewed journals, while others have their manuscripts at different stages of review. Yet others, present their work at international professional conferences and receive recognition for their work through awards, fellowships, and acceptance to other prestigious programs.
Features of our International Exchange Program that have made it so successful over the last 15 years are:
I think this program has opened their eyes to a world of possibilities, literally. It is worthwhile.
No one gets very far in academia without mentors. This is partly because mentoring is built into the structure of academic life.
If you are very lucky, sometimes you can get the perfect mentor assigned to you. Or maybe you just happen to meet someone who would be a perfect mentor for you. But why leave this important part of your career development to chance? Be more intentional about finding your perfect mentor. To help you, here are some of the characteristics to help you find the perfect match.
Currently, I am looking for a mentor to help me improve my public speaking. Here are some of the criteria for my ideal mentor:
This is the third in a series of blog posts about mentors. To download a Free Checklist Meeting with A New Mentor, click HERE.
Dr. Luz Claudio is a Tenured Professor of Environmental Medicine and Public Health and the author of How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide and the Spanish edition: Cómo Escribir y Publicar un Artículo Científico: La Guía Paso a Paso. She has also created the Notebook for Seminars and Lectures. In the books, she teaches young scientists how to publish their research and take effective notes. She also translates environmental health research into information that everyone can understand by publishing fact sheets on her website: DrLuzClaudio.com. The opinions expressed in this blog are solely her own and may not reflect those of her employer, colleagues or associates.
"Won’t you be my mentor?".
Asking that question can be as awkward, and scary as asking "will you marry me?"
Approaching someone to be your mentor can be a very intimidating proposition. After all, this potential mentor is someone you admire, otherwise, you would not be approaching them. They are an expert. A master of their domain. And here you are, asking them to take time out of their busy schedule to mentor you. How do you even do that?!
I have been a mentor to hundreds of students and emerging scientists. I have also been a mentee, and currently, have two mentors whom I meet with regularly. One mentor helps me with career issues within my department and the other advises me on issues outside of academia. I am now in the process of finding a third mentor to help me with expanding my business life outside of academia, especially regarding public speaking. So I understand how you might feel when you first approach a potential mentor. Here are some tips to help you approach a mentor with confidence:
So be specific when you approach a potential mentor. Be clear about what you want to learn from them and why. And be open to listening for unexpected advice. Clarity, preparation, and open-mindedness will help you when you approach a new mentor and will take the awkward out of what can be a very uncomfortable first step.
This is the second in a series of blog posts about mentors. To download a free checklist about the things to discuss on your First Meeting with A New Mentor, click HERE.
5 Tips for a Successful Summer Internship
OK. Summer is here. Some of you will just chill by a pool somewhere. But many more of you are also starting your summer internships.
Summer internships are beneficial to your academic and professional career. For some students, they can be truly life-changing. Internships are an opportunity to learn from professionals, try career options, and meet new mentors. Whether you have already secured a great internship or whether you’re still looking for one, take a moment and think about how to become a successful intern so that you can get the most of out of your experience. After all, landing an internship is just a beginning, and it is up to you to make it a productive experience. Here are some tips:
1. Be humble: As talented as you may be, one thing to remember is that you are there to learn. So be open to feedback and guidance from your supervisor and colleagues, because “true humility is staying teachable, regardless of how much you already know”.
2. Act As If: While I say humility is important, this notion shouldn’t be mistaken as permission for you to be passive or uninvolved. Rather, it’s crucial that you remember that you’re part of the organization, even if it is only temporary. Act as if you are an employee. That means to be mindful of punctuality, your attire, and other common office courtesy and rules. Get involved in life as a member of the organization.
3. Engage: Your supervisor will be more willing to offer you challenging and fulfilling tasks if they believe that you genuinely care about the work that you’re doing. Take notes, ask questions, and share your ideas so that they know that you’re interested. Establish a good relationship with your supervisor, and meet with them regularly so that you can keep track of how you are performing, and make sure that both of your expectations are being met. Show enthusiasm and interest in the work. No one will want to teach you if you appear uninterested.
4. Communicate, and communicate well: Communication skills are a highly valued asset that many employers look for in job candidates, and this applies to interns as well. Think about how you’re communicating with your supervisor and colleagues, both verbal and written, and explore ways to improve it. It is also important that you ask questions if you are unsure about any aspects of your work. Do not assume anything, especially if your action could affect other people's work. It is better to be the annoying intern who asks a lot of questions than the intern from hell who broke a major piece of equipment. Know how, when, and to whom to ask questions and you will be fine.
5. Keep in touch. Before your internship is over, make sure that you leave all of your work in order and provide a summary of all work products. After you finish your internship, make sure to let your mentors know where they can reach you if they have any questions about your work. Send a note of appreciation. Don’t just disappear after your internship is complete! Make an effort to stay in touch with your supervisor and colleagues, by sending them updates or checking in to say hello. Your supervisor is a very valuable contact to maintain. You might want to ask them for advice or for a letter of recommendation later on. Contacting your internship mentor only when you need something from them will not be well received.
Internships can be very rewarding, productive and can have a big impact on your life and career. Here is a great opportunity for you to shine.
This is the first in a series of blog posts on internships and mentors. To download the Free Checklist for Meeting with an Internship Mentor, click HERE.
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Dr. Luz Claudio is an environmental health scientist, mother and consultant, originally from Puerto Rico. She is a tenured professor of environmental medicine and public health. Luz recently published her first book: How to Write and Publish a Scientific Paper: The Step-by-Step Guide. Dr. Claudio has internship programs and resources for young scientists. Opinions expressed in this blog are solely her own and may not reflect her employer's views.