Outlook: Newsletter of the Society of Behavorial Medicine
Winter 2012 Return to Outlook Main page »

Making the Most of Opportunities: Developing Relationships with Mentors

Erin Alexis Olson, MS, Student SIG Outlook liaison

"Work hard to find mentors that are as invested in you as you are in them."

~ Dave Marquez, Physical Activity SIG Co-chair

How do you get from A to Z? How do you get from being a student in training to becoming an independent researcher, a health practitioner, a teacher, a scientist, or a policy-maker? When I was younger I often became frustrated with being unable to do things perfectly. Without betraying too much of my personality traits, I'll tell you how my dad would respond. He told me that making good decisions and being successful requires wisdom; and wisdom requires experiences; and experience requires learning from other people and your own mistakes.

Mentors teach you how to learn, research, investigate, and create. They teach you how to learn from your peers and in turn lead them. Mentors show you how to create research designs, collect data, interact with patients or participants, write manuscripts and last but not least they can teach grant-writing! Mentors impart wisdom.

But what if I already have a mentor? I'm already in a PhD program with a great advisor. What more is there to do? The need for a mentor doesn't stop at graduation! It is doubtful the hooding ceremony will make you any more omniscient than you already are. Wherever you go next - whether it is academia, government, a clinical setting, or industry - you will greatly benefit from a productive mentorship.

How do you find mentors? Here are some ideas:

  1. Find people who have similar interests. At conferences, go to talks or activities related to your area of interest. Stick around afterwards for discussion. Don't be shy; go to the meet and greet activities.
  2. Figure out who is productive in your field. Be observant as to who is publishing regularly. Make a wish list of people you would like to meet or talk to about their work. Send them an email or go to a talk of theirs and go up to meet them afterwards.
  3. Look for people who are passionate about their work and the field. Excitement can be contagious and help your creativity flow as well.
  4. Find mentors who are invested in those they mentor. One of the best ways to figure this out is to ask individuals they have mentored in the past.
  5. At this year's SBM meeting, go to the Student SIG Midday Meeting Behavioral Medicine Internship Meet and Greet. The Student SIG social event is a great way to meet your peers who may become colleagues in future endeavors.

It is great to have mentors throughout the various stages of your career to help navigate the various opportunities and challenges. One of the benefits to finding a good mentor early on in one's career is that in addition to benefiting from the mentoring process, you can learn how to become a good mentor.