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The Edupunks' Guide: How to Find a Mentor

Do your research, and don't be afraid to ask someone to help you out.

It’s the best of times and the worst of times to be a learner. College tuition has doubled in the past decade, while the options for learning online and independently keep expanding. Anya Kamenetz's new free ebook The Edupunks’ Guide and her free online course are all about the many paths that learners are taking in this new world, and we're running excerpts from the book all week. We're also asking GOOD readers to doodle your learning journey and submit the result by Sunday, September 11. See all Edupunks excerpts here.

Every independent learner needs a mentor. A mentor takes a personal interest in your success in learning and achieving your goals, and he or she is in a position to help you do it by encouraging you and connecting you with ideas, resources, people, and opportunities. Here’s how to find one.

  • Look for real chemistry. Prominent people get lots of attempts to contact them, but you may not actually have that much in common with Oprah. You’d be better off finding someone who does what you want to be doing, whether it’s worm compost or natural hairstyles. Use research tools like Slideshare, YouTube, and blog searches to find the perfect person.
  • Reach out respectfully. The Internet age makes it easy to connect with people, but that also means that people get many, many attempts to connect with them. I’ve found that the best way to connect with someone online is to ask a genuine question about his or her work.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask. Once you’ve exchanged a few emails or a phone call and established a real conversation with someone, you can ask them for a favor: to take a look at your portfolio, to let you know about summer internships in that field, or even more broadly, to stay in touch and answer your questions. People like to feel helpful.
  • Mentoring is a two-way street. Don’t forget that as a younger person with enthusiasm and energy, you have something to offer your mentor as well. Maybe it’s research help, or help with a project. Maybe it’s just a younger person’s insight into a situation. Offering to help will let your mentor know that you appreciate them.
  • Go long and short. Classic mentorships will last for years, but you should also be alert to the opportunity to gain wisdom, good advice, and valuable connections in just one conversation.
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