Written by Huan Rui, Ph.D., a computational chemist at Amgen. Huan is currently the president at Women Accelerators. She served as the program chair during the 2019 mentoring program.
No one can deny the benefits of having mentors who lift us up and help us in our careers. There can be times when it feels uncertain who could guide us through difficult situations.
But remember, mentorship does not have to be formal and you can have more than one mentor. One of the informal mentorship models I like is peer mentoring. It happens more often than you think. Think of a time you asked a friend or a coworker about something that you did not know well but they did. Usually, you get the answer you need. You come to them because you think that they are the experts in the topic and this is often well perceived and appreciated. Another way to get mentoring opportunities is to talk to your manager or advisor directly and express to them your needs. Many companies and academic institutes already have a mentoring program in place, but in case yours do not, it is absolutely OK you ask.
If you are too shy to ask for help from people you know, there are also many mentoring opportunities online or in-person offered by different organizations that can fit your needs. At Women Accelerators, we have been running a mentoring program for seven years. We have an extensive network of mentors and our graduates are in a variety of fields like academia, biotech, law, and management. The program starts in January and ends in June of each year, but the applications start in October the year before. (That is if you want to be part of the 2020 program, the application is coming up.) As a mentee of the program, during each month you meet with your mentor for an hour to discuss the issues you need help with. Some popular topics include effective job search, salary negotiation, self-branding, and so on. Many of our previous year participants have expressed their appreciation of the program:
“My mentoring experience has been great so far! I feel so lucky for being matched with my mentor. She has introduced countless helpful resources in career building and was so supportive when I told her (halfway through the program) that I have decided to make a career change. I think we have made a relationship that will continue on far after the mentoring program has ended.” – Candace Anderson, 2019 program mentee
A lot of efforts have been put in by our passionate volunteers to improve the program each year. For example, in the past year, we implemented a matching algorithm based on the common interests of the mentors and mentees. It follows the work done by the 2012 Nobel Laureates in Economics, Dr. Alvin Roth on market design and game theory (Roth and Peranson, 1999). It works by matching the parties by their preferential rankings of each other, therefore maximizing the overall commonality between the mentors and mentees. We have also started a Slack channel for the mentees to communicate with each other and share what they have learned. We will keep on testing new ideas and make the mentoring program experience better.
Roth, Alvin, E., and Elliott Peranson. 1999. “The Redesign of the Matching Market for American Physicians: Some Engineering Aspects of Economic Design.” American Economic Review, 89 (4): 748-780