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Why Mentors are Important

A good mentor is a coach, always challenging you, inspiring you and demanding that you do your best. Mentors can improve confidence and lead to job opportunities you had not considered. They are familiar with a range of professional opportunities and are guides who have put aside self-preoccupation to foster the growth of new professionals.

Mentoring relationships develop over time. Most of us have several mentors over the course of our careers: mentors for different areas (e.g., teaching and research) and at different times in our professional development (e.g., grad student, post-doc, junior faculty).

A mentor should:

  • Provide you with support and encouragement
  • Help you to learn from your mistakes
  • Offer opportunities for collaboration, joint presentations, and departmental talks
  • Help you to learn about writing and submitting manuscripts for publication
  • Be able to provide support and training in your career area
  • Model a successful academic career and training in your area
  • Be committed to help mentees make the next move in their career development
  • Demonstrate personal integrity
  • Introduce you to colleagues
  • Help you to identify and work with your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Provide opportunities for you to develop independence

How to Find a Mentor that is Right for You

  1. Research the possibilities. Ask yourself what areas of research interest you. If you do not have a particular lab or mentor in mind, you can search our list of available mentors. You can also contact our office for referrals. Dr. Nick Shaheen is happy to meet with students to discuss potential clinical mentors and Dr. Susan Henning is happy to meet with students to discuss potential basic science mentors. Appointments can be made by contacting Tiffany Durham ( Friends and classmates may also be able to suggest faculty members that have a reputation for being good research mentors.
  2. Narrow down your search. Once you have some likely mentors in mind, you will need to contact them to determine whether they are available for mentoring you. There is nothing wrong with approaching more than one potential mentor simultaneously. Your goal is to find a great mentor and research environment.
  3. Ask Questions. Find out as much as you can about the the research environment. Discuss issues such as who will supervise you (and are you comfortable with this arrangement)? How often will you meet with your faculty advisor (or will you mostly interact with another laboratory member; is the arrangement acceptable to you)? Will you be working in a project that might lead to a publication?The above questions are offered as a starting point. In our experience, most misunderstandings between students and mentors stem from a lack of clear expectations on these issues.Most students interview several faculty members before choosing a sponsor. You do not need to have an idea for a research project before you meet with a potential sponsor. It is the responsibility of the faculty member to suggest one or more projects, to explain in broad terms what each would entail, and to suggest a small amount of appropriate reading for each project (for example, a portion of a grant application or articles already published by the investigator on the same topic). When meeting with a potential sponsor you should also discuss who will be working with you on a daily basis and how your project will relate to other work being done by the group.
  4. Get to work! For students that are applying for funding through the Carolina Medical Student Research Program it is important to invest time in the application process way in advance of the deadline (February 8). Locating a faculty mentor and perfecting your proposal will take time, and you will be busy with your coursework, too.