Saturday, December 12, 2009

Build your team: how-to get mentors

You are your best cheerleader, encouraging yourself to accomplish your goals. But I have learned that one voice can only be so loud. Imagine the sea of voices if there were at least ten other people cheering with you, supporting your endeavors. Thus, if I could advise you to do only one thing, that would be to build your cheerleading squad, your “team.” Yes, your team... a group of people from whom you can seek advice and guidance and who will ultimately support your endeavors.

You may be asking yourself, “who should be on my team?” The members of your team can be of varying ages, reside in differing locations, and work in a broad number of fields. Who comprises your team will be specific to your needs as they pertain to your goals. For example, I have people on my team who
I can consult for academic-related issues. Others are primarily for career advice. Of course I include my parents and best friends as honorary team members because they provide me unconditional support, i.e. keeping me grounded and helping to maintain sanity when things get hectic. The point is just as with any team, each team member will possess a unique set of skills that will ultimately accomplish the overall task of supporting your goals.

So, how do you build such a team? Honestly, you may already have a team of supporting individuals that you have yet to acknowledge. Of course the easiest team members to identify are those individuals in your family who support you. Next, ask yourself, “who at school, work or my religious establishment has taken a serious interest in my goals?” Make a list of these people for they are potential team members- candidates for your team. I say candidates because you should not just recruit anyone to be on your team. A candidate should truly have your interest at heart and want you to succeed with attaining your goals. Think about the individual and assess him or her for mentoring capabilities, approachability, level of professionalism, and availability… if s/he is never available, then this person may not be a good candidate for your team. Also consider how you would like for this individual to contribute to your team.

Now it is time to recruit these people to your team. Recruiting team members must be accomplished in a tactful manner; do not approach anyone and say that you are building a team. Do not inform potential or established team members of other team members. This information is for you to know. From my experience, an individual can be recruited to your team by saying something along the lines of: “I value your advice that you have given me in the past about XYZ. Would you be willing to continue to discuss this topic with me in the future?” The point is to make it clear that you want to remain in contact so that in the future, you can seek advice and guidance.

Once someone expresses interest in remaining in contact with you (joining your team), you must maintain such contact and keep your team members up to date with your progress toward achieving your goals. Ask your team members for help when needed. Maybe you need a letter of reference for a college or job application; would like to discuss a potential career opportunity; would like to get feedback on a grant application you wrote. In any case, DO NOT ABUSE your team members. I am in no way suggesting that you pool together a bunch of people and chat them up because they are in the “right places” and you think they will “get you ahead.” People can sniff that type of attitude out and will not want to help you. Thus, remember that your team members’ time is precious, so always be respectful, kind and gracious. One day, you may have people requesting your assistance and support and you will want them to also respect your time. Heck, you may be on someone’s team now!

I must admit, building and maintaining a team is not a trivial task. With every new experience and progression to another level in my career, I find that I may need to recruit a new team member to seek advice from. And although I am doing well with building my team, I did not learn that I should even have a team until I began this journey of pursuing a Ph.D. degree. I really, really wish I had learned about this concept earlier in life (like as a college freshman). If you also find yourself realizing that you should have begun to build your team long ago, do not worry- it is never too late because building your team is a life-long process. I believe it is one of the best things I have done for my professional career because my voice, and thus my cheer, is rather small and high-pitched all by itself. But I can hear my team cheering me on loud and clear through the priceless support they give me!
I would enjoy hearing about how you are building your team or any questions, comments or suggestions at Minority.Scientist.

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