Will you be my mentor? This question is common in corporate and academic environments, and I’ve asked some version of it while navigating my career path. However, this question is fundamentally flawed: It reflects an all-in-one mentorship model that may not adequately serve the needs of most early-career engineers and young professionals. Shifting from all-in-one mentorship to a team-based approach is like turning on surround sound. More perspectives can expand the scope of opportunities, prevent potential pitfalls, and provide robust feedback.
For example, when I started working as an assistant professor, one of my mentors suggested that I spend my first year focusing on research papers and waiting until my second year to submit any grant proposals. In contrast, another mentor suggested that I submit 30 grant proposals in the first year! These differing perspectives were neither right nor wrong; they simply provided more datapoints as I charted my own strategy.
Building your own mentorship team starts with two questions: What do you need? How can you get it?
Evaluate your needs. Reflect on your professional and personal goals. As you identify your goals, interests, and strengths, create categories of potential mentors. Examples of mentor categories include colleagues who share opportunities with you, sponsors who advocate for you...
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