How to Get the Most Out of an Academic Mentor

Other than your degree, one of the best things you can do for yourself in college is get an academic mentor. Identify someone you admire and would like to emulate, and learn everything you can about them. Try to help them with research projects, or just be a friend — how you get a mentor is entirely up to you. But treat them well, and they can be a valuable resource for your degree plan and future career. Check out these tips on how to get the most out of a mentor.

  1. Be a friend

    If you want one of your professors to be your mentor, make sure you treat them authentically. They probably don’t need any new friends, but some mentors can end up being a trusted advisor for life. See if you can help them out in creative ways, such as mowing their lawn, collating and preparing their academic papers, or bringing them coffee a few times a week.

  2. Be specific

    Many mentor relationships arise organically. But if you’re going to ask someone to be your mentor, be specific about what you’d like to gain from their help. Is it career advice? Contacts? A recommendation letter? Let them know what you want and need, and ask them the appropriate route to get it.

  3. Don’t expect too much

    Your mentor is an advisor, a sage, and can be an important person in your life. But they can’t solve your problems if you’re not committed to solving them already. Don’t expect a mentor to change your life, but do expect them to advocate and champion the things you both believe are important in life.

  4. Listen closely

    If you’re seeking a mentor for validation, try again. It’s your job to ask their advice and listen closely. Don’t expect to always hear what you want. Listen to what they have to say and take their suggestions to heart.

  5. Don’t waste their (or your) time

    If you’re not sure what you function you want your mentor to play in your life, don’t waste anyone’s time. Know what you need, and make sure it’s not a therapist or life coach. Mentors will champion and believe in you, but don’t waste their precious time by not having a clue.

  6. Schedule regular meetings

    If you want to be on someone’s radar screen, you’ve got to be dependable. Don’t constantly reschedule or show up without your morning coffee. Make sure you meeting with a mentor at least once a quarter, if not more. Try to fold them into the fabric of your life on a reasonable schedule.

  7. Be grateful

    The best thing you can do for a mentor? Be extremely thankful. The wise and wonderful don’t owe you their time or energy, and you should consider yourself lucky to get it. Thank them by achieving your goals, but also by thoughtful gestures. Let them know how important and formative they are to you. It never hurts to be polite.

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