By: Laura Thibodeau, OHEA Student member
There are countless benefits to seeking out mentoring relationships while studying. Not only does entering into a mentoring relationship allow opportunity for networking, finding mentors allows you to explore different areas of your field. Connecting to dietitians in different geographic regions could allow you to get a new perspective from a community that differs from yours, or learn how professionals in a similar situation address shared obstacles. Seeking out mentoring relationships is also an exercise in professional communication and can allow you to apply theoretical knowledge and concepts from school in real life situations.
Learning first-hand the experiences of another person, their successes and failures and observing their process allows a more in-depth perspective of the time, skills, emotions, and thought processes they use to achieve success. By fostering a mentoring relationship, not only do you reap the benefits listed above, but also your mentor can challenge you to grow in new ways and give insight into new opportunities you never previously considered. Because of these benefits, receiving mentorship from professionals I admire has been one of the most informative and rewarding learning experiences in my student career.
I have been fortunate to have had fantastic mentors who have inspired and challenged me in ways I could have never imagined on my own. These people made the effort to invest their time and resources into me and took a personal interest in my growth. More specifically, through the OHEA mentorship program, I was paired with Pooja Mansukhani, a registered dietitian in Toronto. Pooja enthusiastically provided a wealth of knowledge and insight on the dietetic internship application process, work opportunities, and avenues for professional development beyond my education. Having someone to bounce ideas off of, or to provide support during times of uncertainty or stress was invaluable. While your professional interests and goals may differ from mine, there is someone out there with the expertise and willingness to move you forward.
If you are a student or an emerging professional and all of this seems overwhelming, I have good news: you are already one step ahead by being a member of OHEA. Professional associations such as OHEA are excellent establishments designed to facilitate mentoring relationships by bringing together people at all stages of their careers and on a variety of career paths. These organizations also provide framework and services such as the mentorship program through OHEA. If gaining mentorship for professional development appeals to you, but you don’t know where to start, consider the following tips.
Don’t be afraid to seek out mentorship.
It may seem too intimidating to reach out to someone you admire to seek mentorship. If you’re anything like me, you may think things like “I’ll just be annoying them”, “They’re too busy to take me on”. The simple fact is these thoughts are simply holding you back. Yes, successful people are generally very busy. But they have often been mentored themselves and understand the value in mentorship. Almost anyone will be flattered to hear that you took an interest in their work, and successful people are often willing to make time for mentees who seem genuinely interested in what they do. Let them decide for themselves if they are too busy to help you, you don’t get to decide that for them.
With regard to annoying a prospective mentor with your request, my philosophy is the worst thing they can say is ‘no’, and you won’t be any worse off. In other words, you lose nothing by seeking out mentorship. That being said, there is definitely a right and wrong way to approach someone for professional mentorship. We will get into this next.
Have specific outcomes in mind
You have found someone in your field that you want to learn from. How do you approach them in an appealing way? I recommend doing as much research as possible on their career journey. Read their LinkedIn profile, learn what projects and partnerships their company has been involved in, or read their blog posts. Based on what you learn, come up with a few specific outcomes or points you hope to gain from your interaction with this person. For example: rather than saying “I am a big fan of your food blog and would love to learn more from you about blogging.” You can say “I have been researching your blog which features excellent food photography, which is a skill I hope to develop more. If you have the time, I would love to set up a phone call to learn more about your process and your suggestions for growing my skills”. The more specific you can be regarding your expectations, the more feasible your request will be to your prospective mentor. Being specific about your interests is mutually beneficial because you have a better chance of learning what you actually set out to learn and gives your mentor a better sense of how they can direct their efforts help you.
Be mindful of your mentor’s time
As mentioned before, the majority of people will be flattered you have taken an interest in their work and are happy to help out others in some capacity. However, contacting them the day before the deadline likely won’t be appreciated or received well. Furthermore, asking their opinion on a blog concept may be a reasonable request, however asking them to help you build your own blog from the ground up would likely require more time than they can reasonably spare. While its not wrong to ask for learning opportunities, remember that they are doing this as a favour, and putting them out will not bode well for your reputation or your professional relationship.
Consider what you have to offer to your mentor
Your relationship with your mentor should be reciprocal. Consider ways that you can apply your own skills to help them or contribute to a collaboration. As a student or a recent graduate, you may wonder what skills you could possibly have that would be of use to a seasoned professional. Don’t take your own abilities and ideas for granted, and like your expectations of your mentor, have an idea of what you bring to the table before you contact your prospective mentor. You can offer your research or writing skills, proofreading abilities, or maybe your knowledge of technology or social media.
Approaching an industry expert with years of experience can be intimidating, but I hope this article has provided clear guidelines on how to seek out a mentoring relationship, and has highlighted some of the countless benefits and opportunities these relationships can bring. I wish you as rewarding and fulfilling of an experience as I have had, and the inspiration to find out where a mentor can take you.
Laura Thibodeau is a recent graduate of the foods and nutrition program at Brescia University College and has a Bachelor of science from Algoma University in her home town of Sault Ste. Marie. Laura looks forward to beginning her dietetic internship with the Northern Ontario School of Medicine in fall 2019 and reducing healthcare disparities in Northern Ontario. In her spare time, Laura enjoys cross country skiing, cooking and hiking.