Whether you’re new to the concept of mentoring or you’ve had mentors throughout your life, finding a new mentor who is the right fit can be daunting. Here are some key tips for starting a virtual mentoring connection:
- Ask yourself, “Why do I want a mentor?”
Everyone has different reasons for seeking a mentor and identifying these reasons will help determine what type of mentoring connection to start. If you would like advice on a specific topic, flash mentoring (1-2 meetings with a mentor) may be the best fit for you. For this type of mentoring (and depending on your specific topic), it may or may not be beneficial for you to find someone in your same field of study. Alternatively, if you’re looking to grow into your next education and/or career stage, a guided virtual mentor can help you develop self-efficacy, confidence, and focus on personal characteristics that will aid in your advancement over time. This type of connection is usually longer (4-5 months) and does not require that your mentor be in your same field of study. In fact, sometimes having an outside-your-field perspective can be beneficial! Whatever your reason for seeking a mentor, it’s best to first consider why you would like a mentor to decide what type of mentoring is right for you.
- Prepare goals and expectations
Before starting a mentoring connection, it’s important to define the goals you want to achieve. You wouldn’t start a new manuscript without an outline, and in the same regard, you shouldn’t start a mentoring connection without goals in mind. However, these goals do not always have to be incredibly specific. Look back to why you are seeking a mentoring connection. If you want a mentor to help with creating your CV, then your goal would be a finished CV. Conversely, if you’re seeking a mentor to help transition from being an undergraduate to a graduate student, some goals could be to develop self-efficacy, develop a sense of professionalism, and/or grow confidence to promote independence.
Use this time to also set the proper expectations for yourself regarding this connection. Keep in mind that you have a life, career, education, family, etc., and so does your mentor. Think about the goals you want to achieve and effort the necessary to achieve those goals. If you want a mentor to help you to put together your first CV, think about the time, effort, and energy that it will take to accomplish this goal. If you have no idea how much effort will be needed to accomplish your goals, this is something you should address in the first meeting with your mentor to ensure that you both have the bandwidth to stick to your goal(s) to completion.
- Acknowledge the time commitment – both for yourself and for your mentor
Engaging in a mentoring connection, whether it’s flash mentoring or guided virtual mentoring, is akin to starting a new class: it will take time and effort from all participants, but it will be worth it. Before starting your mentoring connection, start thinking about how much time you actually have available to dedicate to a mentoring connection. Generally, in a guided virtual mentoring connection, mentees spend 30 minutes per week talking with their mentors. This doesn’t sound like a lot, and it isn’t, but it’s easy to fall behind if your connection isn’t a priority. Between your classes, job, social life, family, etc., calculate the available time that you can dedicate to a mentoring connection and plan to have this discussion with your mentor during your first meeting. Knowing your commitment parameters at the start of your connection will help you and your mentor prioritize your connection.
It’s important to also keep in mind that your mentor is probably exceptionally busy as well. Typically, mentors have full-time careers, mentees at their institution, involvement in professional organizations/societies, plus additional research endeavors. They are dedicated to mentoring because they see the importance in it, but they are not available 24/7. During the first meeting when you’re discussing your time and effort parameters, make sure to discuss theirs too.
- Consider what you have to offer to the connection
Mentees often ask, “why would a mentor want to spend their time to help me?” The answer is simple: mentors learn just as much from their mentees as the mentees learn from the mentors. They may be teaching you skills directly related to your goals, but you’re providing them a new, fresh perspective that they have probably not encountered before. Guiding a mentee teaches mentors to conceptualize new lessons, provides insight to areas they should cover with other mentees, and reaffirms their own progress which builds their personal self-efficacy.
If you’re still anxious about what you have to offer, make a list! How many times have you helped a parent or guardian learn something? How many times have you asked a question in class when the teacher/professor didn’t know the answer? How many times have you helped a peer learn something that they didn’t know or were struggling to learn? We all learn from each other in a multitude of ways and mentors are no exception.
- You get out what you put in
It may be cliché, but it’s a cliché for a reason. When it comes to learning, obtaining a new skill, or accomplishing a goal, you get out of it what you put into it. Often, when someone doesn’t get what they need out of a mentoring connection, it’s because the connection was not made a priority. We all have so many commitments and obligations that take up our time, but it’s important to remember to set aside some time for ourselves to grow too. If there comes a time when there is too much going on and it feels like you don’t have a minute to spare, take a breath, and then explain to your mentor what’s going on. From there, they can either advise you on how to make it easier, provide support, or even suggest that you put the mentoring connection on hold for a little bit until some normalcy returns. Whatever the outcome, don’t give up!
Through MyNRMN, the National Research Mentoring Network offers a variety of tools for mentoring and networking within the STEM fields. If you need assistance in finding a mentor, navigating the platform, or even just want some tips on networking, please reach out! We love to watch our mentees and mentors grow!
Written by: Katie Stinson, MLIS
NRMN Virtual Engagement Strategist