Career Mentoring for PhDs

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If you are doing a PhD and have aspirations to work in business and industry it is worthwhile seeking out a mentor who can help you to develop your career in your chosen sector. Equally if you are undecided about your career direction a well chosen mentor can help you to consider options and to formulate a plan. In this article we provide practical tips and advice to help you make the most of career mentoring.

Why get a career mentor?

Whilst doing your PhD it is likely that you have a support network of peers and colleagues and professional support from your academic supervisor, if however you want to get a job in business and industry then you are very likely to gain great benefit from working with a mentor from outside academia.

If you work with a mentor who has followed a career path in line with your career goals and aspirations you will gain valuable advice and inspiration. Working with your a mentor will provide you with the opportunity to draw on their experience and insights, giving you new perspectives and advice based on their insider knowledge. Particularly if you don’t have relevant work experience in the career direction you wish to take, then a mentor can be a valuable way to help you start to build up relevant knowledge.

An effective mentoring relationship is also a great way to boost your confidence and to increase your self awareness. Mentoring can also result in the opportunity to make new professional contacts and direct access to professional networks provided by your mentor potentially leading to a job offer or work experience.

How do you find a mentor?

First of all find out if your University has a formal mentoring scheme, either organised through your department or the Careers Service. Often mentoring programmes are set up to enable alumni to provide mentoring support as a way of giving back once they have graduated and moved on to develop a successful career. 

A formal scheme will provide you with a structured process and will introduce you to a mentor with experience aligned to your career aspirations. Often there is training available to help you prepare for the mentoring relationship, with guidelines for making the most of the mentoring.

If there is not a formal scheme, don’t let that put you off. There are other ways in which you can identify and make contact with a suitable mentor. First of all be clear about what you want to achieve from the mentoring and then think of who would make a good mentor for you.

Networking is a great way to meet potential mentors, either through face-to-face events and meetings or through online routes, such as LinkedIn or Twitter. Once you have identified a potential mentor make contact in a professional manner and perhaps suggest an initial meeting to discuss the possible mentoring relationship. As with all speculative approaches and networking it is useful if you have some form of prior connection in the first place, for example through family, friends or industry and research links.

How to make the most of a career mentoring relationship

Be clear at the outset what you want to get out of the mentoring relationship. Clarify your career goals and write down how you think that the mentor can help you achieve them.

Choose a mentor who has a skill set relevant for your career aspirations and with whom you have a good rapport. Meet up to have a chat before committing fully to a series of mentoring meetings. Ensure you contract effectively and establish realistic expectations from both sides, including the logistics of meeting up, start and end dates and confidentiality issues.

Know for yourself the skills of a good mentor. Ensure, for example, that your mentor provides a mixture of support and challenge, and that they help to work out what is best for you rather than simply giving you advice and telling you what to do.

Make notes at meetings and keep a journal so that you can reflect on the process, refer back to discussions and keep track of your progress. If you commit to actions you owe it both yourself and your mentor to take action.

If you are not getting what you want from the relationship, have an open discussion with your mentor. A good mentor will be an excellent listener and will take the lead from your agenda and objectives.

Above all respect the time of your mentor and the boundaries of the relationship recognising that in most cases mentoring is offered on a voluntary basis and they have other commitments and priorities to consider. 

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