Mentorship and Sponsorship: Helping Define and Navigate a Successful Career
Dr. Hopf is a member of the FAER Academy of Research Mentors in Anesthesiology and the FAER Board of Directors. She received the 2013 FAER Mentoring Excellence in Research Award, which recognizes outstanding mentorship in anesthesiology.
Mentoring has been defined as “a dynamic, reciprocal relationship in a work environment between an advanced career incumbent and a beginner aimed at promoting the development of both.”1 In this model, the mentor is teacher, protector, role model and advisor. This is a useful definition for one type of mentoring relationship, the traditional research mentor relationship common for most scientists-in-training. However, it leaves out the richness of the world that is mentoring relationships. Therefore, I choose to define mentoring from a more functional perspective. Mentoring, to me, is indeed a “dynamic and reciprocal relationship” between two people “aimed at promoting the development of both.” The richness comes from the variety of people you can find to mentor you and from the variety of areas of development you may be targeting. For aspiring clinician-scientists, a traditional research mentor is essential, but additional mentors can help navigate a complex system successfully. FAER programs from the Medical Student Anesthesia Research Fellowship to the Mentored Research Training Grants help trainees and junior faculty develop valuable mentoring relationships.
Finding a Mentor
I classify mentoring relationships by duration (longitudinal versus short burst), scope (focused versus comprehensive) and focus (professional versus personal). Mentors may focus, for example, on research, academic advancement, teaching or life balance. Mentors frequently come from the same department, but mentors from outside departments and institutions can provide useful perspective and objectivity. Professional societies are an excellent venue to connect with “distant” mentors from another institution.
How do you go about finding mentors? The first step is to think about who you are and what you want. Although mentors can help clarify goals and values, unthinkingly following a path set out by someone else is a recipe for frustration and disillusion. An excellent resource for identifying your goals and values can be found in a brief article by Linda Pololi.2
After defining a set of goals that are aligned with your values, think about what it is you are looking for in a mentor. Do you need help writing a grant or finding a collaborator? Are you looking for a long-term relationship or short-term assistance with a particular issue?
When you identify someone who could fill your needs, the next step is to ask that person to be your mentor. Be explicit: Tell them what you are looking for and how much of their time you envision you will need. Once they agree, manage the relationship. Ask them how they like to communicate. Keep them informed of your progress, and request input when you need it. Often, mentoring relationships will develop organically, as when you join a lab. In those relationships, it is even more important that you have a conversation with the mentor in which you establish what you want out of the relationship.
Finding a mentor may not be too difficult, but finding a good mentor who is a good fit for your goals and values can be more challenging. Although I have learned much from the ineffective and disagreeable mentors I have encountered, that is only because they served as a contrast to the many spectacular mentors who encouraged and sustained me. When evaluating a potential mentor, consider the three Cs: competence, confidence, and commitment.3 Competence means the potential mentor has the skills, knowledge and experience to help you achieve your goals. Confidence means they are willing to help you achieve your goals, and not just looking for someone who will facilitate their own success. Look for someone who provides opportunities and is generous with credit. Commitment means the potential mentor is available and accessible. Look to see the time and energy they have invested in other mentees. Remember that investment of time and energy is easier if the mentee actively manages the relationship.
One of the hallmarks of the best mentors is that they give direct support and provide sponsorship.4 A sponsor uses her own influence to advocate for the mentee. Look for someone who has a track record of promoting mentees. This is particularly important for women. Women are less likely to ask for things than men5 and are less likely to be sponsored (though more likely to be mentored).4
Sometimes, choosing a mentor wisely and achieving your goals come into conflict.6 What if the only person doing what you want is a clearly dysfunctional mentor? What if the person doing what you want expects you to follow a path you don’t want? What if your good mentors disagree on the best approach to an issue? Identifying your goals and values and actively managing your mentoring relationships will help you manage such relationships. A strong peer-mentoring network and an effective primary mentor can help ensure the benefits are worth the risks.
Creating a Career
Finding a mentor isn’t just about getting over a specific hurdle, such as getting your first grant – it’s about creating the storyline of your career. Think about your career as a book with many chapters. As you are beginning your career, think about choosing a storyline that you can commit to for the long haul. What is your passion? Can you turn it into a career? How can you translate the thing(s) you are passionate about into all aspects of your career (research, teaching, administration and/or clinical care)? The path to failure often starts with: “You need to …” so you do, but your heart isn’t in it; or “I want to …” but there is no one who can help you make it happen. Mindfully putting together your career can help you avoid these pitfalls. Careers can and should evolve, but make sure that each arc you enter makes sense for your personal values and goals.
Making good decisions is key to creating a rewarding career storyline7, and it is one of the areas where people often struggle. Frequently, trainees and faculty alike make decisions based on opportunities that become available, considering “Do I have time?” rather than “How is this valuable?” Most of us are not at all good at saying “No.” Random opportunities are thus allowed to determine our career direction. A more proactive approach to decision-making not only makes the most of opportunities that are offered but also encourages you to seek out the opportunities that will help you achieve your goals.
Mentors and, more importantly, sponsors can help you define and navigate a successful career path. As you are constructing your career, choose a path that will engage your best efforts. When you think “I want to …” and there is a content mentor, and it will benefit your institution, and there are resources, and it is feasible, and you are enthusiastic, and you are willing to develop the skills you need … that is the path to success.
Nominations Sought for the 2014 FAER Mentoring Excellence in Research Award
FAER is accepting nominations for the 2014 FAER Mentoring Excellence in Research Award. The award recognizes an outstanding mentor in anesthesiology and the value of mentorship in the specialty. Each year, the FAER Academy of Research Mentors in Anesthesiology presents the award at the ASA annual meeting during the Celebration of Research.
The nomination deadline for the FAER Mentoring Excellence in Research Award is March 31, 2014.
Anesthesiologists who are actively engaged in anesthesiology mentorship and have a sustained record of mentoring anesthesiologists over time are eligible for the award. The award is based on the training experiences and successes of the nominee’s mentees, not on the mentor’s personal career achievements.
Anyone who is a mentee or a colleague of a successful anesthesiology mentor may submit a nomination.
Nominators must have personal knowledge of the nominee’s mentoring efforts. Mentees should be actively involved in research, teaching, mentoring or other leadership activities.
The recipient of the 2013 FAER Mentoring Excellence in Research award was Harriet W. Hopf, M.D., Professor and Vice Chair of Anesthesiology, and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the University of Utah.
Please submit a nomination form, three letters of recommendation, the nominee’s curriculum vitae and a completed mentor table. Nomination forms and more information about the nomination process are available at FAER.org/mentor-award.
If you have questions about award nominations, contact Jody Clikeman, Program Coordinator, at (507) 538-7884 or JodyClikeman@faer.org.
Supporting FAER through Honorariums
Thanks to the following anesthesiologists for enrolling in the FAER Visiting Professor Program and offering to donate all or part of their honorariums from visiting professorships to FAER.
• Daniel Cole, M.D. (Mayo Clinic Arizona)
• Jesse Ehrenfeld, M.D., M.P.H. (Vanderbilt University)
• Martin H. Dauber, M.D. (University of Chicago)
• Paul Garcia, M.D., Ph.D. (Emory University)
• Simon Gelman, M.D., Ph.D. (Brigham and Women’s Hospital)
• Howard Gutstein, M.D. (MD Anderson Cancer Center)
• Warren S. Sandberg, M.D., Ph.D. (Vanderbilt University)
• Thomas F. Slaughter, M.H.A., C.P.H., M.D. (Wake Forest School of Medicine)
• Michael M. Todd, M.D. (University of Iowa)
• Arthur W. Wallace, M.D., Ph.D. (University of California San Francisco)
• Denham S. Ward, M.D., Ph.D. (FAER, University of Rochester)
Check out FAER.org/visiting-professor for more information.
FAER Upcoming Events & Deadlines
January 15: Medical Student Anesthesia Research Fellowship – Year-Long Program Deadline
Applications for medical student year-long anesthesia research fellowships are due January 15. For more information and to apply, visit FAER.org/MSARF.
January 18: Anesthesiology Conference on Innovation and Entrepreneurship
FAER is hosting its first-ever conference on innovation and entrepreneurship on January 18 in Orlando. ASA members can register for only $100. Visit FAER.org/ACIE for more information and to register.
February 15: Research Grant Funding Application Deadline
The deadline to apply for research grant funding for FAER in 2014 is February 15. Opportunities include Mentored Research Training Grants ($175,000), Research Fellowship Grants ($75,000) and Research in Education Grants ($100,000). Go to FAER.org/research-grants for more information and to apply.
March 31: Mentoring Excellence in Research Award Nomination Deadline
FAER is accepting nominations for the 2014 Mentoring Excellence in Research Award, which recognizes an outstanding mentor in anesthesiology and the value of mentorship in the specialty. Please visit FAER.org/mentor-award for details on how to submit a nomination.
1. Healy CC, Welchert AJ. Mentoring relations: a definition to advance research and practice. Educ Res. 1990;19(9):17-21.
2. Pololi L. Career development for academic medicine—a nine step strategy. BMJ website. http://careers.bmj.com/careers/advice/view-article.html?id=1446. Published January 28, 2006. Accessed November 20, 2013.
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4. Ibarra H, Carter NM, Silva C. Why men still get more promotions than women. Harv Bus Rev. 2010;88(9):80-85.
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6. Exploited Students? J Cell Sci. 2005;118(pt 7):1333-1334.
7. Hopf L, Welter W. Rethink, Reinvent, Reposition: 12 Strategies to Renew Your Business and Boost Your Bottom Line. Avon, Mass.: Adams Media; 2010.