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What To Do About Broken Mentoring Systems

What if you stopped looking for the perfect mentor?


As an early career faculty, I was desperate to find the one person to help me succeed in research. My desperation combined with my people-pleasing tendency to create a terrible situation. I threw myself at the one mentor who agreed to take me on. Then, I worked tirelessly to bend to their every whim. Unfortunately, when I failed to meet an expectation. I experienced some angry outbursts. To the unsuspecting observer, I appeared to be succeeding: Manuscripts were being written and grants were being submitted. But these fleeting rewards paled in comparison to the lasting costs. I was dying inside. With the constant sleepless nights and burning the candle at both ends, I began to experience frequent anxiety attacks. I also lived with the irrational fear that my mentor would abandon. By the time my colleagues staged an intervention, I was a nervous wreck.


Looking back on that time, I am glad things unraveled when they did. By asking one mentor to supply all my needs, I had created a dependency model. Unfortunately, humans don't know what to do with that kind of power. More often than not, they behave poorly. But I also bear some of the responsibility for my experience. If I wasn't so desperate for success, I may have responded differently.


Fortunately, few early career faculty will find themselves in my situation. What is more likely is that you may not find the one mentor who will take you under their wing. If that describes you, do not despair. You have an opportunity to shift from traditional mentoring systems to a more personalized and self-directed approach to your own career development. 


In the Clinician Researcher Podcast, Season 2 Episode 14, we talk about how early career faculty can be empowered  to create their own mentoring success toolkit. This toolkit involves engaging systems, building a supportive community, and developing mentoring networks.


  1. Engaging existing systems: Embracing or engaging existing systems that support faculty research development.

  2. Creating community: Forming a community that includes mentors who have gone ahead, peers at a similar career stage, and those who are coming up behind.

  3. Mentoring networks: Finding different mentors that meet specific, identifiable career needs, such as manuscript development, career advice, and grant writing.

  4. Assessing needs: Identifying and understanding personal needs through conversations with experienced individuals in the field.

  5. Strategic planning: Crafting a strategic plan for future career growth, focusing on both short-term and long-term goals.

This week, make a list of what skills you need to develop. Next, think about the people you already know who may be able to help you learn that skill. Write at least one name next to each skill. From your list, pick one person you will contact this week to ask for help. Then, come back and tell me how it went.


What if, for every skill you needed to develop, you found one or two people who could help you succeed in building it? How might that change your perspective about your mentoring needs? I bet it would expand your mentoring networks big time.


Remember, everything you need already exists in someone else. However, it may not all exist in just one person. Therefore, stay open and maximize the people resources you already have.  


🎙️ 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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