You know how every chef movie has an aspiring sous chef who admires the head chef, but the head chef either doesn’t have the desire or can’t seem to find time to mentor the sous chef? In this regard, the dental profession is no different from the food preparation profession.
Everyone talks about mentor relationships. Some people have them, but would like more. Some people would like to find just one. No matter how you slice it, if you’d like a mentor, you will probably have to do something to initiate the relationship. So how do you go about creating a mentor relationship with a faculty or senior colleague?
We don’t have a recipe for you. But we do have some experience with mentor relationships, so we’d like to share some pointers with you:
- Figure out what you are hoping to gain from your mentor relationship. Maybe you want some guidance about what to do after dental school. Perhaps you’re having a rough time and would like to talk to someone who has been through the experience. Maybe your ulterior motive is simply a good letter of recommendation from a mentor. No matter what your objective, how you proceed and the amount of effort you expend will determine the outcome.
- Like any relationship, it’s always good to find a mentor who shares some of your interests, making your encounters more enjoyable for both of you. In order to determine whether or not you and your prospective mentor are similarly inclined, you will need to do some research. Find out where your prospective mentor went to college and dental school. Maybe you have some people in common. Has your prospective mentor published any articles? If so, on what topic? Make sure you read the articles and understand them, so that you can ask meaningful questions. Has s/he given a presentation in an interesting location? Maybe you can ask about the trip. Find topics to start some conversation, and go in prepared to elicit data and do some active listening.
- Talk to colleagues who have mentors. Find out what they consider to be positive and negative experiences with their mentors. Think about some positive relationships in your life and what characteristics define the people who are in those relationships with you. Then try to decide whether your prospective mentor has the correct temperament to deal with you. Like any relationship, the two people should be capable of listening to, supporting and guiding each other professionally.
- That’s right. We said the two people should be capable of listening to, supporting and guiding each other In an ideal mentor relationship, the mentee should have as much to offer the mentor as the mentor has to offer the mentee. But how? The mentor has so much more experience! That’s true of some things, but not true of everything. Have you ever seen a faculty member having technical difficulties? Instead of laughing inwardly, offer help. It’s highly likely that you have more experience than your faculty with many computer issues. You can also help your faculty by offering to mentor others. Have you heard of “tell–show–do–teach”? Once you’ve completed a procedure, teaching that procedure to someone else will not only ease the burden on your over-extended faculty, but will also help synthesize and ingrain your own knowledge. Which brings us to the third thing you can do to help your faculty: Be an exemplary student. We know they are the bane of every student who’s just trying to get by, but have you ever noticed how much the teachers love those exemplary students? Everything comes easy to them, doesn’t it? Well, that’s because they make it easy for the faculty. Being a mentor is extra work for your faculty. You want to make it as enjoyable as possible, so that s/he will want to continue the mentor relationship. Being an exemplary student is just one more way to differentiate yourself from others and support your faculty.
- Once you’ve decided who you would like to invite to be your mentor, ask for an appointment and create a professional presentation to request the mentorship. Prepare a printed portfolio including your curriculum vitae and a personal statement with a description of why you think you would benefit from this mentor relationship. Be specific about which aspects of your prospective mentor’s career path align with your goals, and outline what you think you can offer your prospective mentor.
- Cross your fingers and hold your breath!
- Once your mentor agrees, make sure that you understand the difference between a mentor relationship and a friendship. Your mentor is not your buddy, and you are not entitled to any special rights or privileges as a result of your mentor relationship. Your senior colleague has agreed to listen to you, support you and guide you professionally. That’s all. But isn’t that wonderful?
We think it’s just the icing on the cake.
~Dr. Ivy D. Peltz and Dr. Eric S. Studley