truths about yourself. It must be an
individual whom you respect and trust.
Most importantly, a mentor must be a
good listener, willing to focus on your
concerns, dreams, and goals. Seek out
those who will help you become the best
you can be—and not try to turn you
into a clone of themselves. Above all, the
person shouldn’t make you feel like a
bother. You want a mentor who’s happy
to see you and greets you cheerfully.
A mentor is someone you need to
respect, feel comfortable talking with,
and trust to keep your confidences. A
really good one will not only be there
when you call, but will sometimes take
the initiative to check in with you and
see how you are progressing toward
Who Is a Not a Mentor?
Your research adviser may be a coach or
a mentor, or fulfill both roles at different
times. Coaching is a shorter-term relationship, focused on specific skills and
projects, with the coach telling you how
to improve your technique. Think of a
sports team, where the coach gives specific directions about how to improve.
She or he offers praise when you do it
right and (I hope, constructive) criticism when you can do better. The relationship focuses on getting things done,
not figuring out which things to do.
Especially early in your graduate career, your adviser acts as a coach,
telling you what to do and how to do
it. Over time, while changing to a more
mentoring role, he or she will start stepping back and letting you grow into an
independent scientist. At that point, a
good adviser will not tell you what to do
but will help you learn to figure things
out for yourself, and let you take charge
of your own research projects.
A great adviser will go even further
and mentor you on long-term career
goals and professional development as
well. Whether or not this happens, you
can always seek additional mentors.
More perspectives always add value.
Find a Mentor
To find a mentor, look for people who
have more experience than you do, or
who are in positions you want to be in,
and talk to them. Although your re-
search adviser and dissertation commit-
tee members are a good place to start
looking, you want to think more widely.
Do you know any other faculty members in your department or university,
or maybe even at neighboring or collaborating institutions? Is there a postdoc
or more senior graduate student whom
Mentors can be found outside
the lab as well. Start with your current
network. Are there friends, relatives, or
people in your community you could
talk to? If you visit your undergraduate
institution, reconnect with your adviser
to talk about your long-term career
Volunteering provides a great way
to expand your professional network.
Sign up to help with outreach activities
such as National Chemistry Week or
Earth Day, which are often organized by
ACS local sections, and work alongside
more experienced professionals. Attend
presentations about technical topics,
and talk not only to the presenter, but
also to others in the audience. Make
sure to collect business cards or contact
information so you can follow up and
build the relationships that are of the
most interest to you.
You can learn something from every
person you talk to, but sometimes you
can get more. If you talk to enough people, you will find someone with whom
you really connect, who inspires and
challenges you. If the person also enjoys
helping you, the relationship will grow.
Many people find it useful to have
multiple mentors with diverse talents,
ages, personalities, and backgrounds.
Each relationship will be unique and
add a different piece to the puzzle that is
your professional life. Mentors can pro-
vide information about things you have
not yet experienced, or maybe not even
considered, and the more diverse infor-
mation you collect, the more informed
your own choices will be.
Build the Relationship
Once you’ve identified a potential mentor, contact that individual and schedule
a time to talk for 15–30 minutes, either
in person or on the phone. Ideally, you
will have a specific professional issue
that you are dealing with so you can ask
for help. Set a specific time and place to
meet (or schedule the call), and prepare
Ask open-ended opinion questions rather than those
that can be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” A good
mentor will listen carefully, reflect back, ask probing questions,
and suggest ways to address your issue. Be mindful of the
time, and limit your conversation to the promised duration.
questions in advance. Ask open-ended
opinion questions rather than those that
can be answered with a simple “yes” or
“no.” A good mentor will listen carefully,
reflect back, ask probing questions, and
suggest ways to address your issue. Be
mindful of the time, and limit your conversation to the promised duration.
After each interaction with your
mentor, make sure to extend sincere
thanks for her or his time, then reflect
and act on the advice. Within a few
weeks, follow up to let the person know
what action you took, why, and how
it is going. Knowledge of being helpful is often the only reward the mentor receives—you don’t want to be the
person who only calls when you need
Although you will ask questions,
they may not be the right questions.
Make sure to listen carefully to see
whether your mentor is gently guiding
you to look in a different direction, take
a step back, or think about an aspect of
the issue that you have not considered.
Sustain the Relationship
To sustain a mentoring relationship
over the long term, both sides must be
getting some benefit. You are receiving