How to Get a Mentor

So you’ve been told to find a mentor. Take these 4 steps:

  1. List the traits you’re looking for.
  2. Note who in your network has those traits.
  3. Meet with them.
  4. Confirm the relationship.


Good day there, bakers, writers, and rock stars. Dr. Richard Huysmans here with another vlog. This time we’re looking at how to get a mentor.

One of the things that people regularly ask me is how do I get a mentor? How do I know how to make a good selection? How do I know if they’re a right fit for me if I’m a right fit for them? All those kinds of things. So, number 1, know what you want from the mentor. So, one of the things that I think is really important is to not think that a mentor needs to cover off all the things that you want mentoring about but knowing what you need mentoring about is really important. So, do you need mentoring around experiment design, writing, oral communication, written communication, presentation skills? How to get a job? Where to get a job? So, make that list. So, know what you’d like from the mentor. Then go through your network. So, that’s step 1, know what you want.

Step 2 is make a short list. So, go through your network wherever that might be. So, if you’re on social media, all your social media connections. Have a look through your emails and your email address book to see if there’s people in there and make a list of all the people that meet one or more of your criteria that you’ve written down that you want from your mentor. Now you might make that threshold higher. So, if you only put down whoever met one criterion only you might get quite a long list, but you might go, “Cool, I want all the people that meet 3 of 5 or 3 of 10” or whatever to make the list a bit shorter. So, make a short list.

The next step to getting a mentor and there’s no way around this step is to approach the person that you’d like to be as your mentor. Now you don’t have to say, “Will you be my mentor?” But you do have to initiate a conversation around the topic of interest to you that you think they can help you with. So, let’s say you’re interested in a career discussion from someone who’s a postdoc and you’re a PhD student. You might say, “Hey Pearson, I really like the career path you’ve taken so far.” or “Your career looks interesting, can we meet for half an hour?” or whatever time you think is useful. I wouldn’t go longer than an hour. “Can we have a bit of a chat about what your careers look like to that point?” So, and that’s all that needs to be. You don’t need to say, “I want you to be a mentor.” We’re not committing to anything. Nothing’s happening at this point. All you’re doing is having an approach. Then the next thing you’re going to do is obviously meet them and confirm that this is a useful relationship. So, you’ll have that discussion.
And at the end of the discussion if you feel comfortable you might say, “This has been really enjoyable. Can we meet again?” Now you’re not saying, “Can you be my mentor?” You’re saying, “Can we meet again?” and they’ll say, “yes”, they’ll say “no”, but it doesn’t really matter what they say. That’s the next step in the process getting another time to meet with them. Because that’s ultimately what you’ll do with your mentor you’ll meet. Not necessarily frequently but certainly regularly. You know, 3 or 4 times a year, and have these kinds of discussions. So, that confirmation step if you want a mentor is really important. I’ve not met anyone who has said “no” to being someone else’s mentor. Certainly not in this kind of informal sense. It’s really flattering to have someone come and ask you, “Will you be my mentor?” So, don’t be shy or don’t be self-conscious about asking for that information. Go ahead and ask, and I suspect you’ll get a good response.

The final step is to review. There’s a saying, “Friends for a reason, friends for a season, and friends for life. I think the same is also true of mentors. There are mentors for a reason, mentors for a season, and mentors for life. So, some people you’ll only need to chat with them once. Other people you might want to chat with them 3 or 4 times over a 12-month period. Other people you will chat with them you know, essentially for your entire career they’ll always be that person who you see as a mentor.
So, that’s my 5-step process for getting and confirming a mentor. Step 1 – Know what you want. Step 2 – Make a short list. Step 3 – Have the meeting and confirm that they’re good for you. Step 4 – Review and redecide. There you have it! Tips to getting a mentor.

See you on the next vlog! Bye!