Heroes are people who are doing the work that you want to do in your future career. You may or may not have contact with them. Mentors are people who will answer your questions and offer practical advice as you investigate and prepare for your future career. Hero-Mentors are both doing the work that you want to do and willing to help you along the way. People in each of the three categories have an important role to play, but one of your goals as you progress in your exploration is to grow and cultivate the Hero-Mentor category.
Before you proceed. Take a moment to download and print the PDF version of this diagram. Put at least one person, but preferably more, in each category.
Heroes provide models for various paths that your career might take. As you consider your heroes, keep in mind that people and careers are complex. Someone may be a hero in one way but not in another. As you think about heroes, look at both their sense of vocation (the “why” of their work that makes it meaningful by connecting it to larger issues) and the “platform” that allows them to do it (e.g. salary, position, location, access). You can discover heroes through books and articles (either the subjects or the authors themselves) and internet searches. If you are committed to a particular cause (e.g. clean energy policy), who are the leading advocates for change in that field? If you’d like to work for particular agency (e.g. Human Rights Watch), look up their directory and read about individuals who work in different roles. If you’re in a lab, read the bio of your PI, other departmental faculty, major collaborators, or authors of important papers in the field. If you’re interning with an organization, think about who has the job that you would want. Look them up on the organization’s website, LinkedIn or Wikipedia.
Mentors will help you sort out the various options you’re considering and provide practice advice and support along the way. These may include faculty instructors, advisors, works supervisors, and older students or recent alums. Good mentors will help you navigate different social situations (e.g. course registration, finding a research opportunity, applications) and share their social capital and knowledge to help you identify opportunities. You can seek mentors by attending advising appointments, office hours, and having conversations with staff or supervisors in your co-curricular activities.
Hero-mentors are the key category that you will want to cultivate over time. They are people who are both doing the work that you want to do and willing to offer you practical advice. Hero-mentors are best sought through a natural process of relationship building. First, you need to be involved in activities (courses, research, campus activities, internships, etc.) that put you in touch with the people doing the work you want to do. Next, you should approach these people initially through formal or informal informational interviews. Rather than asking, “Will you be my mentor?”, ask if you can have 30 minutes to talk about their careers. Ask about their current position, how they got there, and what advice they might have for someone entering the field now. A list of suggested informational interview questions can be found on the UM Career Center website. These interviews will be helpful in their own right as sources of practical information about your prospective career path, but in some cases they will also lead to an ongoing mentoring relationship (whether formal or informal). Ideally, you should cultivate hero-mentoring relationships with people at several different stages of their careers (e.g. recent alums, mid-career and late-career).