November 29, 2016
Mentors Make a Difference: The Critical Function of Effective Mentoring During Your Geoscience Career
By Aisha Morris
Navigating a career in the geosciences can be intimidating if you do not have close relationships with people who have been through a similar process. As a first-generation geoscientist, my pathway has been positively shaped by a series of mentors throughout my career, and each one has contributed to my professional and personal development in specific and appreciable ways.
The value of a mentor can be immeasurable. A mentor can enable success by helping a newcomer find their place within the community, and a good mentor is intentional, honest, respectful, and a champion for their mentee. Candid conversations between mentor and mentee about the unwritten norms within a community may ease anxieties by providing knowledge and tips with the intention of building confidence and self-efficacy. And although it may not be obvious, good mentoring is often responsible for contributing to the retention of a diversity of new perspectives in the geosciences.
So how do you find a professional mentor?
First, you should know what you want out of the mentoring relationship, then identify people who may be good candidates. Many organizations provide opportunities to connect potential mentors and mentees at professional meetings.
For example, AGU and the Geological Society of America (GSA) both have mentoring programs for students to meet intentional mentors who will discuss broad career topics, help navigate meetings, and make introductions to key contacts during a conference. UNAVCO, the non-profit geodesy consortium where I work, arranges mentoring for students and early-career researchers during our biennial Science Workshop.
A great opportunity to meet potential mentors is through undergraduate research experiences. Many of these programs match students with faculty, postdocs, or graduate students who have an interest in helping develop geoscience students.
Graduate students may already have mentors, but if not, a mentor may be someone you have interacted with during your education or through other professional experiences. Professionals may have a long-standing mentor already or may seek out mentors where they work or from other professional affiliations.
The key to a good mentoring relationship is establishing clear expectations and ensuring that you both are respectful and committed to professional growth. To me, a mentor is someone with experience in a situation (typically, in a career) who has intentionally become a source of productive networking, encouragement, and guidance. Mentoring is not limited to advising students or early-career professionals; everyone can benefit from seeking guidance from someone who has walked a similar road.
Additionally, being a mentor does not necessarily start once you are established in your career. In every stage, you’re senior to someone following your path, and you can mentor while simultaneously seeking advice from those ahead of you.
The importance of mentoring for career development is well established, and I hope you take the opportunity to seek out the mentorship of an established professional no matter your career stage. One of the most exciting and rewarding aspects about my professional growth is I now have the honor of mentoring students in the geosciences. As I progress through my career, I hope I will both continue to be mentored for my professional development and serve as an effective intentional mentor and role model for the next generation of geoscientists in the diverse workforce of the future.
Aisha Morris is an education and community engagement specialist as well as the director of Research Experiences in Solid Earth Science for Students (RESESS), a UNAVCO internship program dedicated to increasing diversity. Morris is a geologist who has continuously worked to increase public knowledge regarding Earth science and diversity within the field.