An expanded mentorship model
Rather than asking “Who are people you’ve identified as mentors?” I like asking the question “What is the community you see yourself in, as a future mentor?” I think the former question gets to the heart of the matter— the community with which you belong/contribute and the person you eventually might want to become.
When I first started thinking about building mentors, I spent time “on the lookout” for people, and vacillated between feeling like there no one around me or feeling overwhelmed with both the wealth and limitations of opportunity and potential around me. But I like flipping this question because we’re shifting from an individualistic frame of “what can I get out of this” to a community-centered frame of mind that for me, reiterates the importance of collaborate learning, building, and sharing that occurs through mentorship. I think also helps alleviate the burden, that I often felt/feel about finding “the one” or even “at least one.”
Mentors and mentorship
Obviously, framing is important and foundational, but there’s also the application of how you go about establishing a mentoring relationship. To get to the “but how do you get this started” point, I had to ask myself a couple of key questions:
Questions aside, let’s be real about this
So to speak frankly about this, finding mentors is hard. I’ve been lucky to have supervisors and advisors from my various work and academic institutions where the established/formal relationship happened to work. But for the ones that weren’t formal, the first step was taken, usually, by me.
Tip #1: Be organized. I’ll be the first to admit I love lists and charts. Do I have a list of people I know with their interests and emails? LinkedIn is great for this but I think within higher education, our field is pretty lax, so I’ve created a more old-school method of a pretty simple chart. When I meet people at conferences, I make sure to get their business card, stick a post-it note on the back, and write down a few lines about what we talked about for a reminder when I wrote a follow-up email… like 6 weeks/months later.
Tip #2: Figure out who around. Sometimes, you’ll have a drought and it looks like no one is around. Part of what helped for me is to map out who I know. Mark Granovetter wrote about the strength of weak ties, and I think this is really important when you think about not only who is in your network, but also who is in your network’s network. My maps look hideous, like those blown up spider maps we used in our early English classes for brainstorming, but they help me visualize.
Tip #3: Biting the bullet. You will have to make the first step. That’s it. And it sucks and some day, when we’re all in higher positions of power, we can try to change the social structure and dynamics. But for now, we’ll probably be taking the first step and maybe even the first-couple of steps.
Tip #4: Ready, set, go. I have a hard time with cold emails, so usually, when I think about how to start reaching out, it’s usually in-person from conferences, workshops, presentations, talks, etc. (which is why those notes for the follow-up are super important.) For that initial email, I’ve usually been specific about why I wanted to meet and learn about ____. In terms of mentioning mentorship specifically, I usually don’t mention it and see how it organically develops and also not to push pressure on myself to try to make/force it to work.
Tip #5: Keeping the connection. We send tons of emails every day. And when thinking about what types of emails I usually send to my mentors, they’re usually one of the following:
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