For the past three years, every time I heard someone talking about their path to success – understanding success as something utopic and unachievable – they always shared a magic recipe: hard work, perseverance, resilience, don’t be afraid of failure, a little bit of luck here and there, and their MENTORS. Most of these successful people even dared to comment that both good and bad mentors had an incredible influence on their careers, letting them grow in several inexplicable ways.

What is a mentor and why is one so relevant?

We can blame Homer for this (the Greek one, I mean). In Homer’s Odyssey, Mentor was Odysseus’ best friend, who taught and instructed his son Telemachus, while Odysseus was away fighting against cool mythological creatures. But, don’t get me wrong, a mentor is not a teacher, not a coach or a counselor, not a friend, and not even an oracle. However, any of them can be your mentor. Easy, isn’t it?

A mentor is someone who helps you advance in your career, someone who gives you advice from the knowledge of a more senior position or a higher expertise in a matter. A good mentor gives you free will to take his/her advice into consideration, leading you but not imposing on you. A mentor-mentee relationship grows with dedication and trust, and it is founded in communication and in a deep knowledge of both side’s expectations.

How can you find the right mentor?

Sometimes the mentor will find you or he/she will come with the job position, sometimes not. You have to be adventurous  and proactive, seek for advice and get outside your comfort zone. Grab your map, your binnacle, your compass and get ready to sail. As Homer wrote, “When you set out on your journey to Ithaca, pray that the road is long, full of adventure, full of knowledge.” Define your short-term and long-term goals, break them down into the steps and skills you need to take, ét voila, you have your mentorship wish-list. For example, if you are following an academic career and are willing to switch gears and explore other scientific fields, find a mentor in that field who can help you navigate those new and inscrutable waters.

To get the right mentor you cannot stay in a safe harbor waiting for them to find you. Get out there and explore, do your homework and take advantage of networking opportunities in your institution, conferences, or any other kind of meetups. Be aware that time is precious for mentors, but they would happily share it with you if you are clear in your expectations and show commitment. You may want to design a working plan together and set up some rules to define your relationship: frequency of your meetings, type of meetings (online, in person, email), and how to measure accountability of your progress.

Remember, before you start your next odyssey, wherever the trip takes you, ensure you have the right mentors, enjoy your sail and make it to port safe and sound.


“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”


More resources

Captain Your Own Ship

Mentees and Mentors Must-Read Book Lists

Build Mentor/Mentee Connections with MyNRMN

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