About two years ago, in 2012, I was seeking a mentor. I have had several mentors in my past. I am still in touch with my 8th grade English teacher from Killough Middle School in Houston, Texas. I will never forget the extra credit assignment I was given on Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. My English teacher encouraged me to write and do research. She saw my potential and prompted me to excel in school. She continues to mentor me, and now we speak more about our family and less about academics.
I also had a wonderful mentor in the work study program at Tulane University. I am still in touch with my supervisor at the Nadine Vorhoff Library where I worked to curate archives. She cheered me to persevere through the challenging courses in college and focus on my end goal which was studying biology. She supported my move to a research lab to gain experience at the bench. And when she published a book on New Orleans cuisine, I emailed her to congratulate her and resumed contact. I look forward to reconnecting with her during my 20th reunion this year in New Orleans, Louisiana.
So, recently, when I navigated a career change, I looked for someone to guide me in my new position in a new career field of institutional research. I never even knew work in this area existed before I applied for the position.
To gain speed in this new area, I considered asking a colleague to serve as a mentor, but I never executed my plan. Then one day, I saw an opportunity provided by American Women in Science of which I am a member in Washington, DC. This association was forming several mentoring circles of 5-10 women in science. They grouped members by careers and location so commuting would not be an issue. I thought this would be an excellent opportunity for me to finally get mentored.
When I joined, I discovered, I will not only be a mentee, but also a mentor. This meant that I would be on the other side of the table at least part of the time. This process is what created the circle, where we would both give and take professional advice. It was a fascinating concept to me. How did this work?
Our mentoring circle group was quite diverse in age and experience, which I recommend. We all had something to share and learn at each stage. I was mid-career, so I was happy to share my recent experience of a job search outside basic research. We covered resumes and leadership skills. The circle met every two months in a coffee shop to discuss topics prepared in advance as well as current topics of interest. It was a nice way to share past experiences and future goals. The circle was also an invaluable resource for networking. I was able to help the son of my son’s 6th grade science teacher obtain a lab internship with someone in my mentoring circle.
The members of our mentoring circle shared a common background which was science. One of the members attended a Children’s Science Center Imagine Their Futures Tour I hosted in my home to introduce the plans of opening a science museum in Northern Virginia. I enjoyed it when my social networks overlapped in new ways. In this process, we discovered similar interests and supported future goals. I encourage you to form a mentoring circle. If you are part of a graduate student or postdoc group, mid- or senior-level in your career, or if you are nearing or post-retirement, all these stages in our careers are full of questions to ask as well as to answer.
In addition to the mentoring circle I joined, I used LinkedIn groups to learn about the new career field I entered, which is institutional research. When I applied for the position, the job descriptions for intuitional research that interested me were data analysis, writing, and education. I knew my research as a molecular and cellular biologist had prepared me for those skills. I joined the Association for Institutional Research and then became a member of their LinkedIn group. I posted questions and followed discussions on various topics I thought would help me learn more about this new area.
I also joined the American Association of Community Colleges’ discussion group on LinkedIn in order to stay abreast of the latest topics and research on community colleges in the U.S. You do not need to become a member of an association to join groups on LinkedIn. Some groups are for members while others are not. Through the online discussions, information is shared and connections are established. Consider joining a group discussion and follow as many as you like. You will receive notices of discussion updates in your email inbox if you choose to follow a discussion. When I connect with a LinkedIn member, I take the time to view their groups, following, and companies.
Often, I find a new group I am interested in joining. The groups are much like the clubs we could join in high school, only now, they are clubs for our career. I follow thought leaders on LinkedIn known as Influencers, and while I do not have time to read all their posts, I do scan the titles from time to time and find a nugget of useful information. If you are interested in leadership, I recommend joining the Harvard Business Review and the Connect: Professional Women’s Network Powered by Citi.
If you are considering making a career change or in transition, joining an email subscription is a good way to stay informed of the latest trends in your new field. Even if you are not in a new field, these online subscriptions are a valuable resource. For example, to increase my knowledge of institutional research topics, I subscribe to Academe Today by The Chronicle of Higher Education, Daily News Update by Inside Higher Ed, and Daily Lumina News by the Lumina Foundation.
Harvard Business Review delivers content to my inbox on business and leadership, which I find useful. And of course, I stay in touch with science by subscribing to the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s New this Week emails. By using technology, we can keep abreast of the current trends and latest research in our fields both past and present. By reaching out to members in our community to form mentoring circles, by engaging in online discussions, and by reading digital news, we can connect and learn any time and any place.