• What exactly is the role of a mentor?
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    What exactly is the role of a mentor?

    Carol Baffi-Dugan

    A mentor is a cheerleader; a mentor is a facilitator; a mentor is a motivator, and sometimes even a nudge. But, first and foremost, a mentor has your best interests at heart. A mentor teaches you and encourages you to push yourself to do your best and learn as much as you can about your chosen profession. A mentor shares information about his or her profession and tells you the pros and cons to help you understand your choice. A mentor helps you make connections, meet people, and find opportunities.

    Robert Hung

    The role of a mentor is to offer expertise and knowledge in a certain field of study. A mentor is both a teacher and a role model who guides you to (1) develop your skill set and (2) shape your character and confidence. Mentors can be immensely important and influential in building your foundation of knowledge and the belief in yourself that you can succeed in your field of study.

  • How can I find a mentor?
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    How can I find a mentor?

    Carol Baffi-Dugan

    There is no one way to find a mentor, and sometimes just being open to the value of having one will allow you to see an opportunity that you might have missed.

    The assertive approach would be to go to a professor's office hours, ask your family physician if you can shadow him or her, or e-mail a researcher about whom you have read on a medical school's Web site.

    Meet with this person and talk about your goals and your background. Ask the person about his or her background and work. Ask for advice and tips. From this meeting you should get a sense of whether this person is interested in you and might be willing to mentor you.

    But there will be occasions when an opportunity presents itself. What if a guest professor giving a talk in class mentions a research project she is starting? You can go up and talk with her and see if she needs help. What if a speaker brought to campus by your health professions advisor impresses you and he happens to mention that he has supported students in the past? You can e-mail him to ask if you could come to his place of work and learn more about what he does.

    Robert Hung

    I would first start by seeing what internships or research programs are offered at your school or university. These programs will set you up directly with a mentor and/or expert.

    Next, I would ask students a year or two above you about which professors have a track record of being good mentors. You can then prepare a resume and contact them directly with your interest in learning and getting involved in a project with them.

    Then, I would spend time researching various professors and/or potential mentors who are working on projects you find interesting.

  • What qualities should you look for in a mentor?
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    What qualities should you look for in a mentor?

    Carol Baffi-Dugan

    A mentor finds joy and reward in helping a younger person pursue his or her dream. So I would say she or he is a "people person." But, personalities can differ.

    Some mentors might be warm and fuzzy and always make you feel good. Others may be tougher because they see you have great potential but you are not working hard enough.

    You need to know yourself. What sort of mentoring do you need? Are you somewhat shy? If so, a mentor who can introduce you to others would be great. Maybe you procrastinate , so a mentor that pushes you would really help. Maybe you get down on yourself. A mentor who is always encouraging and upbeat is what you need.

    You also want a mentor who is accessible and can give you some time. Most busy professionals will not be able to meet with you all the time or answer your emails as quickly as you might like.

    But, you want a mentor who can tell you when and how you can meet with him or her and what time they can devote to you. A mentor who is well-connected is also a real plus!

    Robert Hung

    A mentor should be knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and nurturing. He or she should be a good communicator and enjoy both teaching and guiding your discovery and learning.

    Not all great teachers can mentor, nor can a personable and nurturing person without knowledge offer you enough. You need to find someone who can both teach you and guide you with a nurturing hand.

  • I've found someone who I would like to be my mentor.
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    I've found someone who I would like to be my mentor.

    Carol Baffi-Dugan

    I have always found that the simple approach is best. Assuming you know this person a little bit (a professor, a member of your college staff, a physician in your town), I would schedule a time to speak with him or her in person. Explain something about yourself and your goals, and ask if they would be willing to help you meet your goals. Discuss your ideas about what your relationship could be and ask your potential mentor what his or her expectations would be.

    There are some very basic expectations—actually courtesies—which I think any mentee should meet for their mentor. First of all, you need to do what you say. If you say you are going to shadow your mentor every Friday afternoon, then you need to show up every Friday. If you are given a chance to participate in a project, then you need to do your part.

    You should communicate with your mentor to keep him or her informed. For example, if they referred you to a researcher and you had a great meeting and got an internship out of it, you should let your mentor know and thank him or her for the referral. If your mentor writes you a letter of recommendation for something and you receive it, you should inform and thank your mentor. This is not only the right way to act; it keeps your mentor informed and lets him or her see that they have really been able to help you.

    Robert Hung

    Contact him or her with your interest in getting involved and set up a time to meet. Be prepared with a resume if he or she asks for one, and be familiar with the research or program you are interested in. If he or she agrees to mentor you, simply ask what his or her expectations are and regularly ask for feedback.

  • What responsibilities does a mentor have to his or her mentee?
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    What responsibilities does a mentor have to his or her mentee?

    Carol Baffi-Dugan

    A mentor should do the things she or he offers to do. If a mentor tells you that she or he will see about getting you to meet a neurologist because you are interested in that field, your mentor should try to do that and keep you informed. If they invite you to join them on rounds, they should follow up and be sure you can come and learn from the experience.

    Mentors will not do all the work for you, but they can open doors, provide valuable information, and offer lots of encouragement.

    Robert Hung

    A mentor has the responsibility of teaching and guiding you to become a clear thinker with a good foundation in your field of study. He or she will give you the right amount of autonomy to learn and grow on your own. You can expect to work hard; be challenged; and expand your mind, your social skills, and your personal confidence.

  • I am applying for a summer internship that would pair me with a mentor.
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    I am applying for a summer internship that would pair me with a mentor.

    Carol Baffi-Dugan

    As with any new experience, you should go in with an open mind, a willingness to work hard and do what is expected, and a positive attitude. Your interactions with the individuals in a lab will be as important to your experience as the actual research will be. Always be willing to help, and be respectful of those who are in the lab. Ask questions that show you are interested in the project and in understanding the science behind it. Ask for help when you need it, but also take initiative to get background reading materials on the project so you can be better informed.

    Robert Hung

    Once you are paired with a mentor, you will most likely get an orientation to the lab and an introduction to the research. Make sure to ask questions about the research and your mentor's expectations. Find out what reading materials you will need, and how you can learn more about the lab procedures. Don't be afraid to ask questions. If you work hard and communicate well, you will learn how to think critically, devise experiments, perform lab procedures, and really participate in original research. You will grow personally and professionally by learning science and medicine, developing your interpersonal skills, and building your confidence.

  • Do you have any tips for working with a mentor?
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    Do you have any tips for working with a mentor?

    Carol Baffi-Dugan

    I think being honest, respectful, and appreciative of all that your mentoring is doing is important for a successful mentoring relationship. Keep the lines of communication open. You should expect some things of your mentor, but you need to make the effort also and take advantage of what they offer you.

    The relationship may not work out, however. Your mentor may not be accessible, may expect you to do things you find inappropriate, or mislead you about what she or he will do for you. After trying to make this work, it may be necessary to thank your mentor and move on.

    Robert Hung

    First, always be punctual and hardworking. Ask for their expectations and for regular feedback on things you can improve. And, don't forget to have fun by choosing a project you are enthusiastic about. If you disagree with your mentor on a scientific or methodological issue, make sure you back up your stance with data and a sound argument. They will appreciate it. If it is a personality conflict, you need to compromise and try to communicate clearly and civilly as best as you can. If it is an ethical conflict, then you hold your ground and always follow your conscience.

  • I've had a hard time finding a good mentor.
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    I've had a hard time finding a good mentor.

    Carol Baffi-Dugan

    Again, there is no one place to find a mentor. So much depends on the individual and the circumstances she or he is in at the time. A person might have been a great mentor in the past, but that person may have just gotten an additional job that keeps him or her busy all the time without the chance to spend with mentees.

    Asking others who have mentors, looking in your school's alumni network, and seeing if any local medical societies or hospitals have mentoring programs are some of the ways you can find people who might mentor you. Don't forget family and friends who might be in medicine or know someone who is.

  • Does my mentor need to be a practicing doctor, or can it be a professor or medical student?
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    Does my mentor need to be a practicing doctor, or can it be a professor or medical student?

    Carol Baffi-Dugan

    A physician might be in a better position to help you understand what it means to pursue medicine, but lots of people, including professors, medical students, and other health professionals, can mentor you.

    Robert Hung

    Your mentor can be any of the above, just as long as they are knowledgeable and can teach and guide you in your learning. Participating in clinical or basic science research is highly regarded when you are applying for medical school. It shows you have motivation and an aptitude for learning the science behind medicine. Shadowing a physician is good experience, but only during medical school do your really learn how to take care of patients. I would recommend getting involved with a basic science researcher/professor, a physician/clinical researcher, or a public health specialist such as an epidemiologist who studies the determinants and causes of disease. You can shadow people first to see what you like, but then get actively involved to show your commitment and determination to learn. Mentors love to see you grow and learn difficult concepts even in the midst of some struggles.

  • Is shadowing a physician the same thing as having a mentor?
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    Is shadowing a physician the same thing as having a mentor?

    Carol Baffi-Dugan

    Shadowing might be a one-time thing (or perhaps a few times), but mentoring implies a more involved, and more long-term relationship.

    Robert Hung

    No. Mentoring involves more than just passive observations often found in shadowing. It involves active participation and the continual building of your foundation of knowledge. You get both supervision and autonomy to test out your own hypotheses. Shadowing allows you to learn about various professions so you can determine what you like, but being mentored goes beyond that by allowing active participation.

  • How can I find a mentor as a high school student?
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    How can I find a mentor as a high school student?

    Carol Baffi-Dugan

    Don't be discouraged. This can happen; just keep trying. See if your high school has an alumni listing or program. Do you ever have a career day when professionals come to school? Does your local hospital or nursing home or clinic have opportunities for volunteering so you might meet physicians? If someone has seen you volunteering, they are more likely to be willing to mentor you than if you just call them on the phone.

    Robert Hung

    As a high school student, you will need to show a lot of initiative. You have less experience than a college student and need to prove your worth so to speak. One way to go is to volunteer and offer your services. This may entail helping with research or assisting a physician with medical procedures. Before contacting the physicians, be prepared and knowledgeable about the basics of their research or program. If you are enthusiastic and well-prepared, you may get the opportunity to work on a project. Starting your first project is important because it builds your confidence. You then have some experience that helps you in the future.

  • How do I find a mentor for an MD-PhD program?
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    How do I find a mentor for an MD-PhD program?

    Carol Baffi-Dugan

    There are a lot of internships and other programs to help students get their feet in the door. So, investigate and apply. Ask your teachers if they know anyone involved in medical research in academic centers or local companies, such as pharmaceutical or biotech. Call the human resource offices of local places to ask if there are any opportunities for students to get involved in research.

    Robert Hung

    Given there are fewer dual-trained physician-scientists, you will have to be proactive in contacting them. You can either volunteer your services as a clinical or basic science research assistant or ask for a job in their lab. Be prepared and knowledgeable about their research.

    Dream big because the physician-scientists are a rare breed who are doing some neat things. When I was in medical school at Oregon Health Sciences University, Dr. Drucker developed the anti-cancer drug Gleevec. He did that because of his unique background. You should also consider the other dual-training programs, such as the MD-MPH (Masters of Public Health) programs (which I did). It prepares you to be a MD-clinician and have some public health and statistic training that is invaluable for understanding clinical research. Other dual programs include the MD-MBA (Masters of Business Administration) programs for those interested in improving our health care system.

  • I've already graduated and am not working in the health care field. How can I find a mentor?
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    I've already graduated and am not working in the health care field. How can I find a mentor?

    Carol Baffi-Dugan

    Some of the ideas we've mentioned work for college grads as well. And, almost all colleges have alumni networks, listings of internships and jobs, and career fairs, so try to take advantage of them.

    Robert Hung

    At first, you may need to volunteer your services as a clinical or research assistant to gain some experience related to the heath care field. Or you can enroll in an internship or take classes in a health-related field. Once you have some experience, you can start looking for more opportunities.

      Carol Baffi-Dugan

      Carol Baffi-Dugan has been a health professions advisor for 26 years, first at the University of Pennsylvania and now as an associate dean at Tufts University. She has worked with undergraduates as well as postbac students, and is particularly committed to her work with disadvantaged students in the Tufts Health Careers Fellows Program.

      Robert Hung, MD

      Robert Hung, MD, is an internal medicine and psychiatry resident at Rush University Medical Center. During medical school, he helped survey the student body on its views of race and diversity on campus. He has presented the results at the AAMC annual meeting. Issues of diversity, health disparity, and mind/body medicine continue to be important in his work.