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How to Choose a Mentor. Deborah Cotton MD, MPH. Why Be Careful About Choosing a Mentor?. They can be life-long advocates or life-long adversaries They can steer you to a perfect first project or start you on a career-ending path They can help you form good habits or bad

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how to choose a mentor

How to Choose a Mentor

Deborah Cotton MD, MPH

why be careful about choosing a mentor
Why Be Careful About Choosing a Mentor?
  • They can be life-long advocates or life-long adversaries
  • They can steer you to a perfect first project or start you on a career-ending path
  • They can help you form good habits or bad
  • They can be very hard to leave and harder to get over
why is a mentor not important
Why is a Mentor not important?
  • Many people have succeeded without a mentor, or after a bad “mentoring” experience
  • Many people have failed despite having a great mentor, and a stellar mentoring experience
  • There are many kinds of “mentoring”
    • Peer mentoring
    • Dual mentoring ( mentor for content, mentor for methods)
    • Self mentoring
    • Mentoring you ‘absorb’ from the culture
job one know yourself
Job One- Know Yourself
  • Reflect on your strengths and weaknesses
  • Articulate your goals
  • “Know what you don’t know”
    • About the field
    • About academic medicine
    • About the research process itself
do your homework first
Do your homework first
  • Not to impress but to really understand their work
      • What is his/her publication record?
        • Do papers build on a theme?
        • Has publication been steady and is it continuing?
        • What tier journals does he/she publish in?
        • Are methods sound?
        • Is the work innovative?
        • Are you enjoying reading ( even though it may be hard)
      • What is his/her funding record (use CRISP)
        • Has it been steady and substantial?
        • Does he/she have institutional training grants
      • Ask for c.v.
      • Do an internet search
starting the process
Starting the Process
  • Make sure you know the entire universe of possible mentors
  • Know the rules:
    • When do you have to choose and how?
    • Can you work with people outside the section?
    • Are some mentors “ taken” and what does that mean?
  • Go to see anybody you think there is any chance you would like to work with
  • Do not reject people on basis of topic,appearances, rumors, whim
  • Do not choose someone simply because you have similar traits or they ‘seem nice’
common mistakes when approaching possible mentors
Common Mistakes when Approaching Possible Mentors
  • Fear of rejection- “I’m not good enough”
  • Fear of competition from other trainees
  • Being influenced/forced to choose only from certain mentors
  • Deciding too hastily
  • Being too “romantic”
  • Looking for “brand status”
quality measures of mentors
“Quality Measures” of Mentors
  • Professorial rank (adjusted for age and field)
  • Track record with trainees
    • Academic appointments and professorial rank of former trainees
    • Publication record of former trainees
    • # of current trainees
  • PI of mentoring award (K30, K24, T32, foundations)?
  • Word of mouth reputation as a mentor
quality measures of a research environment
“Quality Measures” of a Research Environment
  • Weekly conferences/journal clubs
  • Stable research staff that are well treated
  • Dedicated and adequate research space
  • Good mix of MDs, PhDs, methodologists
  • Positive spirit of competition
  • Evidence of collaborative opportunities
  • High status of group in institution
interviewing with a potential mentor
Interviewing with a Potential Mentor
  • Introduce yourself
    • Do not presume they know:
      • you ( even if you worked with them in clinical setting)
      • your background or your previous work
      • your previous mentors (even if “famous”!)
      • Be positive about your qualifications
        • THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO DISCUSS YOUR INSECURITIES
things to observe when interviewing a potential mentor
Things to Observe When Interviewing a Potential Mentor
  • Do they treat the interview seriously?
    • Promptness
    • Attention
    • Avoid Interruptions
    • Give you Adequate Time
  • What do they talk about in the interview?
    • Their work?
    • Themselves?
    • You?
    • The future of the field?
    • Their expectations of you, of themselves as mentors?
is the mentor someone whom you would like to become
Is the Mentor someone whom you would like to become?
  • In his/her own career, what relative emphasis does mentor place on:
    • Research
    • Education
    • Patient Care
    • Administration
    • “Extracurricular activities”
positive attributes in a mentor
Positive Attributes in a Mentor
  • Seems excited about his/her work
  • Respected by current trainees
  • Knowledgeable about field
  • Known in field (“ a connector”)
  • Does not hold excessive grudges, or have lots of enemies
  • Does not blame research failures on others
  • Organized
  • FAIR!!!!
negative qualities in a mentor
Negative Qualities in a Mentor
  • “Not there”- physically, mentally, or emotionally
  • Disorganized
  • Unreliable
  • Insecure
  • Inappropriate in word or action- have zero tolerance
  • Questionable research integrity
what you may be asked in an interview with a potential mentor
What you may be asked in an interview with a Potential Mentor
  • Why did you come to see me?
  • Do you have experience?
  • Where do you see yourself in five, 10 years?
  • Things they cannot ask about:
    • Religion, illness/disability, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, childbearing plans
what a potential mentor may be thinking
What a Potential Mentor May Be Thinking
  • Will this person:
      • “fit in”?
      • Make unusual or excessive demands?
      • Slow things up?
      • Criticize me/us?
go to the source
Go to the Source
  • Try to talk to former, current trainees in person
    • Emphasize that this is in confidence-AND MEAN IT!!!
    • Frame the questions appropriately:
      • “Tell me about your background and how you chose this mentor/research group/research topic.?”
      • “What are the strengths and “challenges” of this environment?”
        • Does mentor have enough ideas, tech skills, time?
        • Can you bring problems to mentor?
        • How are projects assigned?
        • How does mentor manage competition?
        • Is mentor fair to all trainees or play favorites?
but be cautious
But be Cautious …..
  • Remember that the trainee you are talking to may have his/her own agenda
    • May see you as threat/competition
      • For mentors time,attention
      • For ideas
      • For space and equipment
    • May see you as burden
after you interview a potential mentor
After you interview a potential mentor
  • Send thank-you note/email
  • Do what they suggest at interview
    • If they give you papers, read them
    • If they tell you to see others in organization, see them
    • If they offer to meet again, go
launch a campaign
Launch a campaign
  • Know who else is applying
  • Think of how you can distinguish yourself from that person(s)
  • Get current trainees on your side
  • Try to get objective advice to weigh candidates
    • From fellowship director
    • From section chief
    • From others
achieving closure
ACHIEVING CLOSURE
  • REMEMBER THAT FACULTY HAVE FEELINGS TOO
    • When you choose a mentor, let each candidate you interviewed know.
    • Cite your interest in another topic, don’t frame this as wanting to work more with another person