Self-mentoring is a term that I have associated with my individual career development activities. From my personal experiences, a research mentor does not always equate to a career mentor, and if an alternate mentor is not found, then many graduate students and postgraduate researchers never think about career development until it is too late. Frequently, I observe scientists who have labored relentlessly in the lab but have neglected their own career development in the process. This can lead to a frantic scramble for a job at the end of graduate or postgraduate work which sadly causes undue stress and a greater possibility of accepting a non-ideal position or leaving science altogether. For this to change, it will require an overhaul of the research environment to a mentoring culture and several programs are in place at various research institutions that can provide a model framework. For example, Argonne National Lab and Northwestern University have established mentoring programs for postdocs and biomedical graduate students. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) also has great recommendations for selection of a research mentor, which are important guidelines to consider when looking for your next position or serving as a mentor to others.
In the mean time, it is vital for science professionals at all levels to take responsibility for their own self-mentoring. The idea of self-mentoring can best be described by Dr. Saundra McGuire (Louisiana State University) in a short video that she recorded on how to become your own self-mentor. The concept is quite simple: if you cannot find a great career mentor then you must learn to be your own self-mentor. Of course, the process of self-mentoring requires much self-reflection, determination and time but it is definitely worth the effort! There are no excuses for having a pity party about the lack of a good mentor (it is okay to vent every once in a while) but this energy can best be applied in a series of structured career development activities. The key is to make a commitment to self-mentoring, start this process as early as possible and set aside scheduled time each week to work on professional development. I hope this blog will serve as a central resource for the self-mentoring process with regular posts on tangible career development activities to help STEM professionals stay focused on their career goals.