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The Importance of Mentoring

Do you remember that great feeling you had after you conquered an assignment that you thought was impossible, thanks to the gracious help of your teacher? A mentor is usually a more experienced person in the field of your choosing who acts as a role model, teacher, guide, and coach and gives significant career assistance to a less-experienced professional or student (the mentee). Great mentors, like great teachers, will always be remembered in your life for the astonishing impact they had on your career. The mentor-mentee relationship may be short-term, long-term, or task specific, but nonetheless, having a good mentor could make the difference between finding success and failure in any health field.

The Benefits of Having a Mentor

  • Demystify a graduate program or career track by sharing stories, including mistakes, and providing guidance based on past experiences.
  • Help identify problems and provide solutions or offer constructive criticism in a supportive manner, lowering your stress level by making difficult periods in your career much easier to navigate.
  • Introduce and refer you to other associates and colleagues that can help further your career by providing recommendations for internship and job opportunities.
  • Provide you with a personal advocate, give you solid advice, and build your confidence.

Find a Mentor Who Is Right for You

  • Look for someone who has knowledge and expertise that you don’t have and has accumulated more experience in your chosen field. 
  • Consider people you already know or ask for referrals. When choosing, be cautious about selecting someone solely because of their popularity. These individuals may not have enough time to dedicate to developing a positive mentorship. It’s important to choose someone who has wisdom, kindness, and time for you!
  • Reflect on what you can offer your mentor in return. Your gifts and talents can be of great assistance to a mentor who needs support with research projects, lab experiments, clinical procedures, grant writing, or conference presentations.
  • Don’t overlook peer mentoring. Peer mentors can help you become familiar with a profession’s culture, a school’s resources, or strategies for success in your field.
  • Be cautious: a mentor should advance your academic and professional goals in directions that you wish to pursue. Make sure to listen to their advice with an open mind but realize the final decisions are all your own.

Women and Minorities

The National Research Committee (NRC) recently issued a report encouraging women in science to seek multiple mentors in all stages of their career. The report states that many women benefit from mentoring even more than men. The NRC has shown that female assistant professors with no mentors had a 68 percent probability of having grant funding versus 93 percent of women with mentors.   

Minorities are still breaking ground in the health and science fields so students from historically underrepresented groups may have a harder time finding role models who might have had experiences similar to their own. If you find your mentor pool is seemingly homogenous, consider choosing a mentor with a different cultural background. What is most important is what you and your mentor share: an enthusiastic commitment to the academic and intellectual goals of your field.

Mentoring Benefits the Mentee and the Mentor

Mentors can turn your fears and uncertainty about pursuing a particular job or career into a more manageable undertaking with the support of someone who has “been there and done that.” After building a relationship with your mentor, you will have a much better understanding of what could be holding you back from reaching your full potential and what gifts and talents you may overlook or undervalue.  Mentors can benefit from taking mentees under their wing because their students will keep them abreast of the latest technology and knowledge.  Additionally, a mentor who is able to successfully model competence, dedication, and professionalism may experience increased professional stature if they are able to send talented new scholars into the field. Many mentors note that seeing their mentees succeed can be as rewarding as a major publication or prestigious award.

This article was written by Lauren A.S. Bush, Senior Administrative Assistant, Center for Educational Policy and Research at the American Dental Education Association.