Since I started advocating for self-mentoring, I have received a few comments about how it’s a shame that someone would have to resort to the process of mentoring one’s self and that effective mentoring can not come from introspection alone. While I agree that stronger mentoring systems are much needed in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) disciplines, these remarks reflect an incomplete understanding of the self-mentoring process.
Self-mentoring is a vital component of any career development plan, with or without a primary mentor in the picture. The process involves taking the time to reflect upon your skills, interests and values to continuously assess where you want to go with your career and how your current activities are going to help you get there. For those of us who have never found a primary mentor, self-mentoring is also a chance to take charge of our careers and to stop feeling like there is something inherently wrong with us for not having a mentor.
Before starting any self-mentoring steps in the career development section of this blog, please take the time to read through the disclaimers below. These guidelines provide the basic framework for finding career success through the self-mentoring process.
1. Self-mentoring is definitely not a solidary process. Even though you may not have a primary mentor (i.e., someone you meet with on a regular basis to discuss professional development), you still need to actively seek out people for informational interviews to learn about new skills and career paths. Additionally, you need to surround yourself with positive, supportive people who will encourage you. The most successful (and happiest) scientists that I know have the ability to create a support system around them, often through involvement in various professional and social groups.
2. You are the only person that truly knows your skills and passions. The practice of self-mentoring will help you to align your skills with your passions in finding an ideal career path. A friend of mine was once given the advice that he should find something he likes to do and make it his hobby, but find something he is good at and make it his career. I find this to be poor advice because why would anyone want to find a job that they don’t enjoy? Skills and passions are not mutually exclusive, and self-mentoring will help you to see where they overlap.
3. Through self-mentoring, you may discover some things that you just don’t like about yourself, which can be frustrating at first. However, you can view these self-discoveries as challenges and identify ways to grow professionally. Also, be sure to evaluate any critical advice that you receive from others and use it in a constructive manner to improve your skill sets. Be aware that you may need to ditch those people who are super negative or blow you off. For example, I have a three-strike rule when contacting people to request an informational interview, and if they don’t respond after three attempts then they are off the list. Don’t take any of the overly negative advice or lack of response as a personal attack and instead stay focused on your personal goals.