Finding an Academic Mentor

Academic Mentor

Knowing what you would like to study and getting good grades is sometimes not enough to ensure career success.  Finding a mentor in your area of study can be a great way to boost understanding, confidence and support.


It is not always easy to find someone whom you wish to guide you, especially after entering your chosen career. Lucky for you, being a student gives you a great opportunity to find and use mentors, as it is often part of the teacher role.  During your college or even high school years, I suggest finding that one teacher who will help push you, educate you and prepare you for success in your field of interest.


Since it is not always an easy task to a) decide who you wish to mentor you, b) ask them to be your mentor, or c) know how this relationship works, here is a guide based on my personal experience with finding my mentor during my undergraduate degree.


1) Finding your mentor.  Sometimes we just feel a certain spark with a teacher.  Sometimes we see that they are so much more than a lecturer, but a role model.  In these instances it is vibrantly clear we should choose this person as a mentor.  Other times, we know we are in need of advice or guidance, but just don’t know who to reach out to.


In order to decipher which of your teachers to choose to have this special kind of relationship with, I suggest going to office hours and/or staying after class.  Find a question, area of discussion or specific point of a lecture you would like to learn more about.  Go to your teacher’s office hours, even better, e-mail them and tell them you would like to meet.  The second time you meet, suggest grabbing a cup of coffee.  Coffee eventually can turn into lunch, or a visit to their home.


2) Asking them to mentor you.  Once you have decided who you would like to be your mentor, it is not always necessary to ask them if they would like to assume this role.  If the natural chemistry is there, you won’t have to ask.  However, if you are trying to decide between a few potential mentors, asking can be appropriate.  They may turn you down.  Some professors have to academically mentor graduate and PhD students and simply do not have time for underclassmen.  I suggest going for the younger, fresher academics who will give you the most time and energy, and who have the most recent experience being in a similar position to you.


3) Maintaining the relationship.  I suggest meeting individually once every six or so weeks.  This will give you enough time to prepare questions, present them with new problems, and not burden them too much with overwhelming time requirements.


While you may be apparently getting more out of these meetings, they benefit from being able to help you.  Naturally, teachers want to help their students and see them grow.  This can be very rewarding for them, as well as for you.



Appropriate questions to ask a mentor:

Career advice

Graduate school advice

What their education was like

Why they chose their career

What career/academic projects they are currently working on

Any topics discussed in class

Inappropriate things to ask a mentor:

Personal information

If they want to get a drink with you

If they would like to meet at inappropriate hours

How much money they make


I assure you.  Having a mentor throughout your studies will make you a better student, keep you more focused, and help you to gain insights in your chosen area of study.  I urge you to take this extra time to reach out to someone and develop this relationship, because it is the easiest time in your life to do so and the rewards are totally worth it.

A graduate from Columbia University and a native New Yorker, Nico is now in Melbourne helping students here to realize their American college dream. Her understanding of U.S. higher education and experience in the Ivy League will guide you through both the SAT exam and the entire admission process.

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