Do you have anyone you can look up to? Are these people great humans, great scientists or both? Do you know them in person or are they distant idols? How did you find these people and how do you stay in regular contact with them?
What I have learned so far is, you can meet great mentors everywhere, and it is so important to have them. One person I would label with being a mentor is a former colleague that knows me very well. He is one I can always ask things like “is this still normal?” or “what would you do in this situation?”. Some are people I got to know during conferences had special knowledge about something I am still working through. For instance, other scientists that start applying for faculity positions (like I do) or that already got the grant I’d like to apply for, or moved abroad as I am planning to do. I also follow some people on twitter, that can teach me important lessons, e.g., how to be more confident or how to talk more openly about mental health issues.
This is a personal recommendation, but I commend to find support far away from your current working environment, and with “far away” I rather refer to spatial than topical distance. It is important to get input that is different from the one of your current colleagues and supervisors and also crucial to get different and neutral opinions that are unbiased by self-interest. As a postdoc, it also happenened to me that students approached me to ask for help, and it is a very good feeling to be asked for support. Don’t fear rejection at this point!
Ideas to find a mentor:
- Attend meetings, conferences and summer schools whenever possible. At conferences, there are sometimes sessions for early career scientists. I commend use these to get in touch with people at the same career level.
- Check for mentoring events and programs in your university or graduate school.
- Find people on social media. It might be a good start to look for someone who has expertise in the area you need help.
- Approach scientists in your field via email. Ask science-related questions or questions about a paper you like. Ask for collaborations, joint grant proposal writing etc.