Throughout your career, you have benefitted from the wisdom and advice of others. Perhaps your high school chemistry teacher noticed your talent and suggested
a career in the lab. Maybe after discussing your future with a
more senior student, you realized there were other career paths
you had not fully explored. You can probably identify several
people whose sincere interest and thought-provoking questions really made a difference in your life. You may not have
realized it at the time, but these people were your mentors.
Just as you may not have understood that others were
mentoring you, you may not have recognized times when you
mentored others. The further you advance in your career, the
more people will be behind you, watching you as a role model,
and maybe also asking for wisdom and advice. Although this
is flattering, it is also scary. Are you ready to mentor someone
else? You probably are more ready than you think. As a mentor, you don’t have to have all of the answers, you just need to
help others find the answers within themselves.
Am I a Mentor?
If even one person has learned from you, appreciated your
insights, or believes you have helped him or her, then you are
a mentor—maybe without even realizing it. Just as parents
know their children are always watching, so should you, as a
grad student, postdoc, or professor, remember that students
are always observing what you do (and what you fail to do),
even more so than listening to what you say. It is natural to
look at those who are ahead of you on the career path and try
to imagine yourself in their place. This means you should always be careful to be your best professional self and always act
as if someone is watching. They just might be.
Although observing is good, interacting is even better.
Real mentoring occurs when you enter into a series of meaningful conversations with others and help them develop their
social, interpersonal, and career skills. This is different from
teaching them technical skills. Mentoring helps them look at
the big picture, think about the future, and figure out both
Lisa M. Balbes, Ph.D.,
Balbes Consultants LLC
Sharing the Gift of Experience: PART 2
On becoming a Mentor