By Jessica Pociask, Guest Blogger

Not sure what you want to be when you grow up? A mentor is a perfect way to find and maintain direction in your career and life decisions. If you’re still in college, and not sure where to begin, start by talking to your adviser, or any professor that you feel comfortable with. It can be as simple as walking up and saying, “Hey, I’m not sure what direction I want to go with this degree, can you help me with options?” or “I think I want to do this with my degree, do you know a good person I could talk to about this?” And if you don’t get a good answer the first time around, don’t give up! Finding a good mentor is a bit like dating, you may have to shop around, and the relationship will take time, commitment, and investment from both ends to be successful.

Whether you choose to approach a potential mentor directly, or are referred to them, initially you will want to look at their resume and see what they can bring to the table in terms of experience, accomplishments and networks. However, it doesn’t matter how many awards, years of experience, or accomplishments a person has under their belt, if your mentor doesn’t have time or interest in mentoring you, it simply won’t work. For instance, if you are a writer, you might seek someone out who is widely published, however, if they are too busy writing themselves, while they might be able to give you a quick introduction to someone, maybe even a publisher, if they can’t take time to meet with you, this ultimately won’t help you to advance your work or your career. You need to have access to these people before, during, and after critical decision times.

What do you talk to a mentor about? In my opinion, you can have more than one kind of mentor, i.e. one that you might talk to about work, another about personal relationships, etc, but what’s most important is being comfortable enough with your mentor that you can confide in them and freely talk about your hopes, dreams, and most importantly dealing with failure. Whether you are in college, or halfway along your career path, questions about your boss/coworkers, being in a management position, applying for a new job, workplace drama, and personal relationships will arise, and you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. A mentor will give you invaluable insight, experience, and guidance, and you should be able to talk to your mentor like asking an accomplished close aunt or uncle for advice. For these reasons, its also important to approach a mentor a long term relationship in mind, so that this person can guide you through multiple stages of your career and life.

As a protégé or mentee, to get the most out of your experience, you have to be actively involved in your relationship. You will only get as much out of it as you put in. So during college, this may mean making the decision between spending an afternoon meeting with your mentor for lunch vs. going to a game or get-together with friends. Also, take a look at the projects that your mentor is working on, and if they invite you to participate in and event GO! In my case, Rick Paulsen has been very involved with MSU’s study abroad programs, so after chatting with him about it, I decided to participate in his program. I enjoyed it so much, that the second time around, he invited me to participate as a student leader, an experience that I feel was very fundamental to my career as an expedition leader today.

Lastly, once you get a little time and experience under your belt, make yourself available as a mentor yourself and complete the cycle. You will find difference rewards, and gain valuable experience from younger people and changing times.

“Keep away from people who try to belittle you. Small people always do that, but the really great, make you feel that you too, can become great.” -Mark Twain


Jessica is the owner of WANT Expeditions, and has been to almost 80 countries leading expeditions all over the world. She holds a B.S. in natural resource management from Michigan State University. Dedicated to conservation, she has worked extensively with The Nature Conservancy and the Wildlife Conservation Society. In winter of 2006, she completed a study in Antarctica on climate change and shortly thereafter, she was one of fifty women chosen from the US and Mexico by the National Wildlife Federation to participate in the ‘Women’s Leadership and International Sustainable Development’ conference in Washington DC. In addition to leading expeditions, Jessica is also a travel writer, nature photographer and holds a research position at the National Museum of Natural History at the Smithsonian, she is also currently working to complete a M.S. in environmental sciences and public policy from Johns Hopkins University.


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