At some point during your journey as a university student, you start to think about life after your undergraduate degree. For many students, regardless of whether the thoughts are about postgraduate studies or a career, this is a scary thought. Sometimes, even if the destination is clear, the path from where you are now to this destination can seem shrouded in fog. A great way to gain clarity about what it takes to reach a career goal is by speaking to people who have already crossed that foggy path. Having a mentor who both cares about you and is willing to be honest with you is one of the most valuable aspects of professional development.
Why you should find a mentor.
These days, most jobs and post-grad programs are incredibly competitive. This competitiveness encompasses not just academic performance but also factors such as work experience, volunteer experience, networking, and your ability to perform in an interview setting. If this sounds overwhelming, well, it is! I was incredibly overwhelmed as a 2nd year student attempting to prepare myself for life after graduation and the experience was not any smoother for even my most successful friends. The most important thing I did in this respect was to find someone who had followed a similar trajectory that I was embarking on, but was 2-3 years older, to be able to provide me with guidance.
This person ended up becoming a mentor for me. The impact that he would have on my professional development was immeasurable. He made me realize that I needed to use my summers to gain relevant work experience. He encouraged me to become involved on campus and use this volunteer experience on my resume as well. He revealed the extent of preparation required to succeed in job searching and interviewing, both of which I had vastly underestimated. To summarize, he provided structure to the way I thought about professional development. It no longer seemed foggy to me. Instead, I saw that there were different elements of my professional development that I needed to spend a lot of time working on. The workload was still huge but now I knew what I needed to do every time I sat down, and this clarity made it easier to instil discipline in my routine.
How you can find a mentor.
Hopefully I’ve succeeded in making you realize how important mentorship is in your journey to set yourself up for graduation. In fact, I’d describe it as essential. And, from what I’ve heard from friends who have begun their careers, the importance of mentorship extends far beyond university.
Now you might be wondering, how can I find a mentor? In these times of remote learning, this can be much more challenging. Below, I’ve listed some steps you can take to find someone to mentor you.
- Figure out where you’re going. Although this step doesn’t necessarily need to precede finding a mentor, I think it helps to have an idea of what you want to do in mind before you seek out advice. An important thing to consider in this step is that you are never bound to your initial decision. Many people take steps towards a goal and then realize that their initial destination was a bit off, so they reroute. This is natural and knowing this can relieve you of some of the pressure of making that first decision.
- Reach out to as many people as possible who seem like their experience could help you gain clarity on your own path. The reason for this is that not everyone will be receptive to giving up their time. Furthermore, even if someone provides you with advice, you need to be able to connect with them on a personal level for it to become an ongoing mentorship. Here are some ways you can find potential mentors in the online environment:
- LinkedIn. You can filter your search for schools and jobs. In this way, you can find students who started at UBC and ended up at your dream school or dream company afterwards. Keep in mind that if you’re reaching out to UBC alumni (as opposed to current students), you should keep your conversations more formal.
- UBC clubs & student societies websites. Check out the websites of clubs (https://clubdatabase.net/) relevant to what you’re interested in or your faculty’s student society (AUS, EUS, CUS, SUS, VSEUS, etc.). On these websites you can find the current executives. Often, these executives are driven students with lots of advice to share. Here is the student leadership page for the AMS: https://www.ams.ubc.ca/how-we-run/leadership/
- Reach out to people who present themselves well in your lectures! This could be people who articulate themselves well or seem to consistently be able to provide good insight. Depending on the class, there is a good chance you could be in the same lecture as upper-year students.
- Keep it casual when you first reach out. Don’t ask someone to be your mentor right away. A good place to start is by stating why you’re reaching out and asking if they have 15 minutes in their schedule for a phone/zoom chat. At the end of the call you can request a follow up. If you’re able to establish rapport in your first chat and the person is receptive to a follow up, you’re on your way to a good mentorship!
- Don’t feel bad. There is no need to feel like what you’re doing is a huge burden on the shoulders of the other person. You can be sure they did the exact same thing themselves and most people are willing to “pay it forward” by sharing what they’ve learned with people younger than them. Additionally, most people like to help! It provides them with satisfaction so don’t fall victim to the misconception that it’s a one-sided relationship.
- Pay it forward. Like I mentioned in step 4, it’s generally accepted that if people were willing to give you time to provide advice, you should pay it forward when younger students begin to reach out to you.
If you’re looking for advice on job searching or professional development, be sure to check out this page where you can find relevant events from both the UBC Centre for Student Involvement & Careers as well as external organizations.
I hope you enjoyed this post and I wish you the best on your respective career journeys!