PHS043 Get yourself a mentor for your public health career

Quick career tips: Get yourself a mentor for your public health career

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Show Notes

A mentor is “someone who gives…help and advice over a period of time, especially help and advice related to [one’s] job” (Collins Dictionary).

One of the top career advice you will receive, regardless of whether you are in public health or not, is to find yourself a mentor.

A mentor is someone who is typically more experienced and has travelled the path you wish to go on. You can lean on a mentor to make difficult career decisions or ask for advice during difficult situations. 

In this episode, Sujani talks about her journey understanding the definition of a mentor, the myths she believed about mentors, and how she eventually realized who her mentors were.

You’ll learn:

  • The four myths about a career mentor that Sujani believed in and eventually debunked.
  • The journey she took to discover who her mentors were and how they have helped her in her career.
  • Why having a mentor is extremely important, and how you can get started on building this important relationship.

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Resources

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Episode Transcript

Sujani 0:02
Welcome to PH SPOTlight, a community for you to build your public health career with. Join Us Weekly right here. And I’ll be here too, your host Sujani Siva from PH SPOT.

Hi, everyone. Thank you for joining me today on another episode of PH SPOTlight, a space where you and me and everyone else in public health to share our stories and inspire each other. My name is Sujani Siva, the host of PH SPOTlight, and I’m here to help you build your public health career.

So welcome to another episode of Quick career tips. One of the top career advice you will receive, regardless of whether you’re in public health or not, is to find yourself a mentor or mentors. I remember banging my head frustrated over this idea or this advice in the first few years in my public health career, because I didn’t understand this idea of finding a mentor, I need a definition of a mentor, someone typically more experienced and perhaps older and has been where I want to go. And it could be someone that I could lean on to make difficult decisions in my career, ask for advice, or speak to about my career path. But you know, knowing a definition is one thing and actually getting a mentor was another. So to begin with, I didn’t know how to even get myself a mentor, part of the problem could have been that I didn’t know who could be a mentor for me, and let alone how to use them. So in today’s episode, my career tip for you is to encourage you to get yourself a mentor for your career. But don’t worry, we’re going to bust some myths, and then I’m going to help you think about who this individual or individuals could be for you. So let’s first start with a few myths that I personally believed about a mentor that was making this process very difficult for me.

Number one, I thought I needed to get permission from an individual before I could consider them my mentor. So I thought that they had to agree that they would be my mentor and I would be their mentee. Secondly, I thought only one person could hold this title as my mentor. The third myth that I had was that my mentor would have all the answers to my public health career path or plan. And when I posed it to them, they would be there to give me those answers. Number four, I thought that finding a mentor was a simple linear process. So I just needed to find someone, ask him to be my mentor, and boom done, I would have a mentor. And so really believing in these myths made the search for a mentor even more difficult than it was. I remember having a number of frustrating moments, wondering how I would even find a mentor. These moments typically manifested when I attended networking sessions. And during conversations with older, more experienced people, they would drop the “And then I spoke to my mentor” line, or “My mentor told me.”. And then I remember thinking, “How do I get myself one of those mentor?”. At times, which was very rare when I was comfortable with the person I was speaking with at the networking event, I would ask them, “So who is your mentor?”, and then they go on to briefly tell me about how they met the individual. But then, you know, their story still didn’t make it clear to me how one went about finding a mentor to engage with, and then to have a meaningful relationship, and ultimately be menteed. And so now fast forward to almost eight years since graduating and having started my first real full time job in public health, I’m reflecting back on the different decisions I have had to make in my career. You know, things such as job choices, applications, moving to a different province for a job, negotiating an offer and the people that I’ve been grateful for who have played a significant role in helping me make these decisions and shaped my career. I didn’t realize it at the time, but these individuals became my mentors, whether they knew it, nor I knew it. And these are people whose advice, thoughts, and perspectives have led me to make the decisions I have. And so eight years isn’t a long time in our career. But during these years, I faced a decent number of forks in the road where I needed guidance to navigate and during these times, I noticed myself leaning on a handful of people in my public health network. These were past colleagues and past managers and they helped me with my decision. In addition to my family members who provided me with the emotional comfort and uplifting that I needed. These other individuals who are familiar with the workplace in the public health career space, provide at a different type of comfort and uplifting. So reflecting some more I can say that these individuals are my mentor. And these are the individuals whose advice and thoughts I care about when I’m thinking about my public health career. They helped me think through my decision, asked me the right tough questions I need to ask myself and even go as far as helping me walk through different scenarios. So from deciding to switch to a new job I was afraid of in an entirely new area, to moving to a new province, or encouraging me to pursue my entrepreneurial passion with PH SPOT, to helping me negotiate new job offers or vouching for me and getting me an interview, putting in a good word with senior managers. These are the individuals whom I consider my mentors. And no, I didn’t have to ask them if they would be my mentor. They just are, because that’s a place that they’ve held in my life.

And so as for those four myths I was talking to you about earlier about mentors. During this eight year journey, they’ve all been debunked. So number one, I did not ask these individuals to be my mentor, and I didn’t even need to announce to them that I was labeling them as such. Number two, I definitely had more than one mentor, some that I’ve met at the very start of my career, and others who I’ve met more recently. And three, no, they did not have all the answers for me. However, they helped me make the decisions in my career by asking me the right questions, and then giving me the guidance that I needed. And finally, they definitely didn’t become my mentor the moment I met them. It’s a relationship that was built on years of trust, time, effort, and consideration. So you too, may already have people in your network that you reach out to for different things, the individuals who you trust, and whose opinions and advice you respect, and want to hear when it comes to your career. These are your mentors. And so keep building on that relationship with them. And if you’re in town, same place that they’re living, reach out to them and go for lunch or coffee, you don’t always need to speak to them only when you have a question. Show them appreciation when you can and give back where you can. So for example, is there a job or a unique opportunity or event that you came across that made you think about them, send it to them. If you see a postcard that made you think about them, send it to them, cultivating that relationship with your mentors will be the most important part of this process. And finally, I will leave you with this one final thought. Having people you respect and whose advice you want and trust is one thing, but actually reaching out to them for the first time for advice is a big mental barrier that I faced personally, it was probably because I didn’t want to be vulnerable in front of them. And so if you too feel like this, here’s the thing, if you have a good relationship, and I know that’s a subjective metric. But if you trust yourself to make that assessment about this individual, make that first phone call or send them that first email and reach out to them. Tell them that you are needing to make a difficult decision and would love to hear their opinion on the issue. That first time you take that step will be very difficult. But once you crack that initial barrier, there’s a beautiful relationship waiting for you to build on the other side. And so I hope this episode inspires you to really think about who in your network or in your life has been a great mentor, even if you haven’t labeled them as such, and work on cultivating that relationship and building that relationship because it’s going to be an individual who you can really lean on to support you throughout your public health career.

And so with that, thank you for joining me on this episode of a career tip that we’re spotlighting and before you leave, I wanted to let you know that PH SPOT has some great products for students both early and established public health professionals on our website, so visit phspot.org/resources. And you can find a whole repository of great resources and if you want to see notes from today’s episode, head on over to pHspot.org/podcast. And until next time, thank you so much for tuning into PH SPOTlight and for the invaluable work that you do for this world.

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About the Show

PH SPOTlight: Public health career stories, inspiration, and guidance from current-day public health heroes

On the show, Sujani sits down with public health heroes of our time to share career stories, inspiration, and guidance for building public health careers. From time to time, she also has conversations with friends of public health – individuals who are not public health professionals, but their advice and guidance are equally important.

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