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Can I Succeed Without a Mentor?

No one succeeds without a mentor; yet many of us are making our way without the "one."

I couldn't find "the One." You know the one. The one mentor who is committed to me forever and always. The one mentor who will help me no matter what. That mentor was nowhere to be found. Yes, there were mentors here and there. But no, they would not commit. Because I wasn't working in their area of interest, they said they couldn't mentor me. What was I to do? Did my mentoring struggle mean I should quit research? No way. Mentor or no mentor, I was determined to make it work. 

In academic medicine, the lack of research mentoring is a ubiquitous problem. In a systematic review evaluating mentoring in academic medicine, the number of faculty reporting that they had a mentor in some fields was less than 20%. Also, compared to men, women felt that they had less access to mentoring.

So what are we to do when we are told that mentoring is crucial to our success; but we can't find them? If mentoring has the biggest influence on our research productivity, how can we still succeed? 

Here are the three myths about mentoring:

  1. I don’t have a mentor: Most faculty are in search of the elusive "one" guru mentor. Because they are looking for the perfect one, they miss the mentors they already have. Look, you've come this far in your career only because people have supported you. Some of these people didn't look like mentors are supposed to look like. Some were more senior; while others were your peers. Newsflash! These are your mentors. No, they may not be the "one;" but since when did your life ever depend on only one person? It's time to stop focusing on what you don't have. Instead, open your eyes to the wealth of mentors that surround you.

  2. I need to find "the one" mentor: You are too much for one mentor to handle. You need to grow in so many areas. In addition to mentoring in research, manuscript writing and proposal development, you also need accountability, career strategy, and emotional support. You need so much. Why would you try to find all your needs in only one person? You are so amazingly complex. You will never find a one-size-fits-all mentor. And if one did exist, you would not want that person. So, instead of looking for the "One." start first with what you need. Then think about who you already have in place to meet that mentoring need. 

  3. Nobody succeeds without a mentor: Yes, mentors can significantly impact your journey, but you can succeed without a traditional mentor. If you need accountability, you can find peers to give it to you. If you need to grow your grant writing skills, you can attend a grant writing workshop. If you need to learn a new research methodology, you can collaborate with an expert methodologist.  Everything you need already exists in someone you already know. Figure out who has what you need and go get it.

Take some time to think about your specific needs. What skills do you need to develop? Where can you go to get these skills? If you can't find them for free, are you willing to pay to acquire them? Think carefully about those who currently support you (including your peers). Who are the mentors in your life that you have not yet acknowledged? 

If you didn't spend so much time looking for something that does not yet exist, what could you create with your one amazing career?

🎙️ News you can use:

We will be opening up enrollments for the next cohort of the Clinician Researcher Academy. Clinician Researcher Academy is your gateway to creating the research career you actually want. Interested? Sign up to join the waitlist here. Once the application portal opens, you will be the first to hear about it. Spoiler alert, it is going to be super awesome!

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