Looking for a mentor? A few things to think about – part three

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Maintaining a mentor/mentee relationship

All scrubbed up and waiting to shadow surgeons for the day! The best mentors would almost certainly be  involved and committed to several different projects simultaneously, whether that is serving as dean, running a lab or running a busy private practice. This means to get the help you need without infringing on too much of your mentor’s time, you should make sure you use your time together wisely. If you are faced with a problem, do not immediately run to your mentor for help. Try to have come up with a few solutions on your own first, before seeking advice. The more of the basics you try and resolve yourself, the more you will be able to bring to the table and the richer their advice is likely to be. Arm yourself with enough information so you can engage in a lively, two-way discussion.

When looking for a mentor to help you resolve your many problems, it is important to keep your expectations realistic. Don’t expect your mentor to solve all of your problems for you. A mentor’s role is to provide you with the perspective you need to eventually find your own solution.

Recognise that every mentor will have their own unique strengths. While some mentors may be excellent at dispensing concrete, practical advice while exploring your career goals and weighing your options, another may be better at offering a patient ear when you are feeling more overwhelmed with everything.

If you find that you are not getting what you require from your mentor relationship, it may be time to re-evaluate your decisions and determine whether it is because your expectations are unrealistic or whether you simply made the wrong choice. Mentoring takes real skill. Not everybody is cut out to be a mentor. Some of the most reputed professionals in their field may simply not fit into the role of a mentor. If you find yourself in this position, don’t cut off all ties as you do not want to burn your bridges. Instead, try and expand your circle of mentors so you can get what you need from someone else.

A thank you note is not too much to ask for in return

So why would a mentor bother about taking on this additional responsibility? After all, it can potentially take up a whole lot of time and this is time they are not getting paid for.

Most professionals who agree to take on the role of mentor are simply paying it forward. They would have had a mentor who helped them during a crucial phase of their career and they would like to return that favour by helping out somebody else in need. Also, it is a nice way for them to share their knowledge and experiences with somebody else as a way to enhance the profession as a whole.

A short, well-written thank you note or email is a nice way to let your mentor know that you appreciate their time and all the help they have given you. Thank them for all the advice given and make special mention of any suggestion they may have made that worked out well for you. It’s that small gesture that makes it all worthwhile for a mentor and will help you maintain a great relationship even years after you’ve flown out from under their wings.   

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