I am a 4th year Ph.D student working in a lab where independence is highly valued, and collaboration with other labs is minimal. My supervisor prefers focusing on our research without much external engagement, as he believes research at the frontier should always be alone. While I've gained substantial research and scientific knowledge under his guidance, I've come to realize that broader mentorship really benefits my career development, especially considering my conflicting interests with my current supervisor and my future steps post-Ph.D.

Recently, I noticed that people with a successful career commonly had mentor(s) who give them vital and unbiased advice and life wisdom at career crossroads, especially when these folks were early career. I recalled a past "dark and bitter" time in my PhD journey when I really struggled to navigate around obstacles and get rid of them, maybe just by luck. Thus, I really believe the potential value of having a mentor even more.

I understand that it may be a little bit late as a 4th year PhD student to seek mentorship. However, I am thinking about having one as my PhD journey approaches it's end. My questions to the community are:

  1. What's the standard for picking up a good mentor?
  2. How to create an opportunity to meet potential mentor, and leave them with a positive impression and finally make them accept you as their mentee?
  3. How to maintain a long lasting mentorship with him/her down the road?

(Maybe I can even meet my future mentor here, who knows?!)

1 Answer 1


Yes, you should seek out mentors other than your advisor. It's critical to build a network of mentors who can help you with the various aspects of academia as well as life. Here are some relevant articles:

There is no guru

New style of mentoring

Web of mentors

The theme is that you should not expect one mentor to be the "go to" person for everything, and you should instead seek to build a network of mentors. To answer your questions:

  1. Start with people you know, like a professor who seems particularly good at winning grants, a professor whose teaching style you admire, a friend who seems to have a great work-life balance, etc. Think also about people whose papers you have read and who you would like to develop a deeper relationship with. Consider emailing them and trying to meet them (e.g., at a conference) to see if you can build a mentorship relationship with them.

  2. I'd say start with lower stakes. Instead of "will you be my mentor?" aim for just having a conversation, then a second conversation, and build that relationship little by little. An email goes a long way, e.g., explaining that you've enjoyed X interaction with them and would like to talk about that deeper, or you haven't met them yet but enjoyed their paper Y and hope to get a chance to discuss it someday, etc.

  3. I think good communication is the key to any mentorship relationship. But I'd set the bar lower here. You wouldn't start any relationship (friendship, romantic, mentorship, etc.) by insisting that it last forever. Build the relationship one day at a time, and embrace the idea that, throughout your life, you will have lots of mentors, who serve different roles in your development, and if a mentorship relationship changes (e.g., if your grant-writing mentor moves away and can't really talk any more), then you're prepared to find another person you can talk to about grants.

It sounds like your PhD advisor has been clear about what kind of mentorship he is willing to offer (research only) and that has been valuable to your development so far. But, to have a successful career and a happy life, you'll need more than that, so it's a great time to start building relationships with other folks who can help you in the next stages of your development.

  • 1
    Thank you so much! You gave a clear path to go. Commented Apr 7 at 22:36

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