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A successful mentor-mentee relationship is paramount to promote young trainees aspiring to become productive academic surgeons and to advance the career of the mentors as well. The literature is rich in articles delineating the qualities of effective mentors but is deficient when it comes to attributes of successful mentees. The Committee on Academic Advancement of the Association for Academic Surgery summarized important elements of a productive mentor-mentee relationship in a letter that will be published in the Journal of Surgical Research. In this blog, I will focus on how to be a proactive and productive mentee.
One of the initial steps as a mentee is to determine your clinical and research interests. Once this is decided, the next step is to search for the best potential mentor who will be able to help you pursue your goals. This endeavor is more challenging than it sounds, especially in programs that do not have formal mentorship programs. Hence, reaching out to different faculty members and meeting them one-on-one to explore their interest in mentorship and their academic expertise is very important at the beginning of one’s research or clinical endeavor. While finding a mentor in one’s institution facilitates the day to day work, you may have to reach out to mentors outside your own institution, especially if you are interested in a field not well-established at your home program. For instance, the Association for Academic Surgery developed a student/trainee-mentor program aiming at pairing students/trainees and mentors of similar career/research interests. This has been nicely outlined in a blog written by Drs. Dawn Coleman and Roger Kim.
Once the mentor is chosen, the mentee should outline her/his expectations, set tangible goals and have a clear timetable. This will give the mentor a chance to determine if she/he is able to meet the mentee’s needs and avoid any disappointment down the line. An early mentor-mentee agreement is important to ensure a successful relationship.
Then the hard work starts. Initially, take on the projects your mentor suggests, be organized and effective. Set realistic deadlines and involve the mentor early on if there are any obstacles hindering your progress. With time and experience, you need to start coming up with questions that interest you and start to learn new skills and techniques that will help you answer these questions. While the primary goal is for you to learn from the mentor, there is also an expectation that you add a new twist to the work that your mentor already does. Always be open to constructive feedback, be an active listener and integrate the learning points from every meeting. Bottom line, you need to be productive and deliver on your promises.
It’s very important to recognize that you drive the ship, so devote the time to maintain the relationship, make sure it’s your priority, and be proactive in reaching out to your mentor.
If successful, acknowledge and appreciate your mentor’s efforts. If not, reassess your goals, find a new mentor and never burn any bridges.
This is a lifelong relationship! Always be in touch and recognize your mentor’s contribution to your success.
- How can/should a mentee identify a mentor? Role for multiple mentors (ie: clinical, professional, research)…
- Are there best practices for mentoring millennials? Role for micro-mentoring, remote/video mentoring, etc…
- Formal mentoring “contracts” exist, but frequently our mentors are informal and the mentoring relationship has ebbs and flows like any other relationship. How would you identify when a mentoring relationship must be formalized with an agreement?
- In the #metoo era, what are the boundaries of a mentoring relationship? Can you go for a beer with a mentee/mentor? Can you invite them to dinner?
- At what point do you decide that a mentor-mentee relationship is not working out and how would you go about terminating that relationship?