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Help Beyond Grad School: Finding Your Mentor


Mentor imparting wisdom on Telemachus

How to find a mentor may vary depending on your field, but across the board it is a universally necessarily asset in order to get connected to people in your field and for getting a head start on your job search once you graduate. Even if you haven’t given a thought to life after your degree yet (because really who has time with everything else we have going on?), it’s beneficial to start thinking about finding a mentor now; their advice may end up shaping your own academic, and ultimately career, direction.

But where to get started? Approaching your professors and supervisor for advice is always a great idea. They can direct you to people they know of in the field and give you much needed insight. But outside of them, and individuals you may have already worked with in your internships and placements throughout your graduate studies, the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) at Queen’s University also offers an extremely helpful Ask An Alum program which connects you to influential people in your field. The program was started in 2016 to celebrate Queen’s University’s 175th year by connecting alumni to graduate students. All the mentors have attended Queen’s University at some point (so you already have something in common!) and have gone on to pursue their own exciting career path, and are now at a stage where they wish to share their thoughts, experiences, challenges and wisdom to current graduate students.

This database of mentors can be searched by discipline, job title or employer name, and each mentor has included some information about themselves including how they should be contacted. Looking through the mentors listed, I found a number of them with fascinating bios and positions. The range of careers listed is extremely varied including engineers, economists, professors, consultants, oral history transcriptors, government positions, urban planners and more. Looking through the list you may come across professions you had not considered, or are tangentially related to your own interests, and so a conversation with these people can be extremely informative. 

Found a mentor? How do you reach out? Making that initial connection can be intimidating. Luckily the Career Services website offers two informative pdfs on the basics about Information Interviews and Networking (other great information sheets about job searching can be found here). Also take a look at the different workshops through SGS with Expanding Horizons as some of them can give you assistance with interview techniques as well. Remember that these types of meetings with your mentor are less formal than job interviews, but it’s always important to be prepared, and to give off your best first impression. 

Some general tips for meeting your mentor: 

  • Remember most people want to help you! Particularly if you are polite and interested in listening
  • When setting up an initial meeting, give the person an option for a grace exit in case this is not a good time for them to put aside mentoring time
  • If meeting in person try to make a good impression by dressing appropriately, arriving on time, giving a firm handshake
  • Practice or make notes ahead of time about the things you want to say, be prepared with questions and look up the mentor ahead of time so you have a good idea of their career path, their company, their education
  • Come up with your 30 second introduction, this will help you not only with meeting your mentor but in any future networking situation. Being able to distill your degree/research in a bite-sized sound bite will allow the mentor to have an idea of your background. As the Information Interview pdf explains, introduce yourself with your full name, your connection to the person (I came across your name through the Ask An Alum program/my supervisor recommended getting in touch with you when I mentioned I was interested in this field post-graduation), and your own background and research
  • Decide ahead of time what you want to get out of this, what kind of information do you want to know? Don’t waste their time, so try to have an idea of this ahead of time
  • When they talk, listen! And take notes! If you don’t feel comfortable taking notes at the time, right after the meeting sit down and write down EVERYTHING you remember while it’s fresh in your head. This will be incredibly helpful to have and refer back to in the future
  • Remember to thank them after! Send a thank you letter later talking about something you’ve learned and how you may take something they said into practice
  • Finally, try to keep in touch! Check in or send along information of interest you come across

Building your network now is important! Give it a try, and let us know if you have any other tips you’d like to add in the comments!

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