Where's the tour guide? Selecting a mentor...

Selecting an appropriate mentor is often critical to one’s success in their career field, sometimes life. As briefly mentioned in last week’s blog, Conquering Dissertation Writing: A Goal Without a Plan Can Be Disastrous, one factor that increases the probability of success for learners in the completion of their doctoral research is a mentor.

Doctoral learning, especially within the dissertation phase, is a journey in of itself that can provoke anxiety in the best of us. One should not forego this journey alone. A learner will customarily be working under the formal supervision of a Chair and Committee Members however learners are solely responsible for the quality and integrity of all aspects of their dissertation. So, where does the mentor come in?

Engaging a support system that has first-hand knowledge of the process is invaluable in this exercise of perseverance. Mentors can prove most useful in providing guidance in the more informal areas of the process related to writing/life balance, time management, the subject matter from a practical perspective, and perhaps reading for understanding from a lay reader viewpoint. In a way they can act as a tour guide making the journey more enjoyable, or at least comfortable.

Now that we have established the necessity for selecting a mentor, how do we go about locating one? It is important to have a plan and communicate expectations clearly up front (mentor and mentee).

The mentee (the learner) should begin by defining their personality and communication style. Based on this assessment, what kind of mentor would best complement the mentee in those areas?

The mentee should create a list of what attributes, knowledge, and skills they desire in a mentor. They should ask themselves if they are looking for someone to provide specific advice, or general guidance.

What about mentor influence? What are the pros and cons of the mentor being an influential in their field? Some mentors are often known as subject matter experts in their field of study or practice. Whatever the qualifying factors it is important that the mentor by happy in his or her career field. Being good at something and doing well in one’s chosen career doesn’t necessarily equate to achieved success and happiness. Look for someone who truly loves their work.

A final item to consider is whether the mentor has completed a terminal degree in their academic journey. What was their topic? Where do their core strengths lie in relation to the process? For example, some mentors have stronger skill sets in research design, others perhaps in data analysis. Some mentors may be well versed in project management, or simply providing support.

In the end, mentees should demonstrate appreciation for the support that the mentor provides. It is important that the relationship be reciprocal and that the mentor not feel taken for granted!

Thoughts? What recommendations do you have as a doctoral advisor, professor, or past/current doctoral learner or mentor/mentee?

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