In science, mentors are known to play extremely important roles in the career development of early career scientists. At the Centre for Blood Research (CBR), the importance of mentorship is recognized and highlighted at the annual CBR Research Day, where the Neil Mackenzie Mentorship Excellence Award was presented to a CBR member, who demonstrated outstanding mentorship skills and commitment to developing others. Being a good mentor gives one an excellent opportunity to grow and develop ourselves in several valuable skills like communication, leadership and management. Given that mentorship is so important, what are some of the attributes of a good mentor? Here, we would like to talk about how to become an outstanding mentor – to reap the benefits and to enrich the lives of others.
A mentor-mentee interaction could be formal or informal and can start as a short-term interaction, which builds up to a long term commitment. However, whether it is a one-time interaction or a long-term relationship, the one main feature of an outstanding mentor is consistent constructive feedback.
You can provide feedback not only about your mentee’s current research project but also about their long-term career plans and personal goals. The mentor can also be expected to provide input about the development or progress of mentee’s technical skills, as well as other professional skills, such as presentation skills, time management or networking.
As a mentor you may be asked for some type of emotional or psychological support, most of the time implicitly. By being friendly and empathetic, let your mentee know that they are not alone in trying to solve their challenges. You can help your mentee to re-evaluate their priorities and understand their true issues by asking questions and reflecting back on what they said. You do not need to solve their problems; most of the time you just need to listen. The true goal is to help them see their needs, priorities and passions, oftentimes rediscovering their love for their work. As you keep a dynamic and non-judgmental attitude, your mentee can stay open, and you can build a relationship of trust. With caring and respectful guidance, a mentee can heal an Achilles heel.
Being someone’s mentor can be challenging and it doesn’t mean you have to know everything. If it is beyond your expertise, be honest! Encourage your mentee to seek other mentors and experts on their journey. Also, do not it take personally if your mentee decides not to follow your advice. You can always give an opinion; but the final decision lies with your mentee.
Last but not least, an outstanding mentor will keep in touch even after the project is done, deadlines are met or a paper is published. Follow-up demonstrates that you care and are willing to take an extra step in the human component of Science.