I don’t make my living as a writer; let’s get that out of the way right now. However, I recruit writers and managers/directors of groups of medical writers, and I’ve been a mentor to many people. I’ve seen people succeed and fail, overcome obstacles and get back up again. A mentor or two (or more) can catapult an average career into a stellar career if you align yourself as early as possible with people who will be in your corner as you navigate your future.How Can Mentors Help You?
Typically, mentors have been there and done what you want to do. They can help you navigate the bumps in your career and life in general. These are people you can turn to when you have ideas you want to bounce around. Subjects might range from navigating your professional development or dealing with difficult team members, to picking their brain about their team-building experience, or simply serving as a devil’s advocate to give you a different perspective on an issue. And just because they’re mentoring you doesn’t mean you can’t also be valuable to them. Even a newbie can offer a fresh perspective to a seasoned pro.
My Mentoring Journey
For a number of years I have been a mentor to colleagues, clients, candidates, friends, and even family. I choose to give back because I was (and still am, from time to time) in their shoes. I found my first mentor many years ago when I started my first real career job. My mentor was my manager, and I didn’t realize at the time she would remain an influential mentor to this day. I’d also found another mentor that although was not my manager, was very successful. He provided me opportunities to grow under his watch. He was never a formal manager and I never asked him to be my mentor. We simply developed a trust and my career soared. When I resigned to take a career growth opportunity, like any good mentor he was sad to lose me but excited for me as well. We’ve stayed in touch.
I decided to switch companies because I had gone as far as I could go career-wise and was at the top of my game. Major deciding factors in choosing my new and current employer was the mentorship available and the number of people in leadership positions who had more experience than me in different functions who I could learn from. This decision gave me a third mentor who will tell you that I work “with” him and not “for” him because we learn from each other every day. I’ve learned through my most recent experience that the word “mentor” is multi-dimensional.
What Can You Do Right Now to Find a Mentor?
Everyone should strive to have a good mentor or a few good mentors in their corner. Medical writers often find mentors organically, like I did. Not everyone is so lucky. A great rule of thumb that will serve you throughout your career is to continuously connect. Make every interaction you have with someone meaningful. This could be through a professional organization, such as the American Medical Writers Association (AMWA), your work, personal contacts, school, community, or by participating in online discussions on social media. Who knows, your first mentor may only be a click away! Here are a few tips to help you start making professional connections:
- Follow relevant professional associations on social media
- Participate in online discussion forums (for example, AMWA Engage)
- Attend networking events to meet peers in person (for example, the annual AMWA conference)
- Connect with everyone you know via LinkedIn to start your network
- Build your LinkedIn network by making meaningful connections with those you don’t know
- Set aside time in your schedule regularly to connect with those you know, but also make new connections
Things to Think About Prior to Approaching a Potential Mentor
Before you approach a potential mentor, make sure you have at least some idea of what you want to accomplish with your mentor. I talk to a lot of people who want to be medical writers who haven’t done any research on the topic. Also, make sure your correspondence is professional. I see a lot of written communications that are riddled with grammatical errors and misspellings.
Pro tip: If you don’t proofread, you probably won’t get a response from most people who are professional medical writers or recruiters of medical writers. You’ll be seen as not taking your writing career seriously, and in turn, as wasting their time. Help your mentor help you by doing your own research before asking for their time; and proofread, don’t just spell-check, prior to clicking “send.”
Relationships take time to develop and frankly, time is money to all of us, so make sure you use any time you ask for judiciously. A mentor doesn’t need to be limited to in-person meetings and doesn’t even have to be located in your area. For example, I live in Denver and I have one mentor nearby as well as one in Chicago and another in San Francisco.
Does a Mentor Need a Mentor?
Yes, of course! No matter how much you know or how much experience you have, there’s always someone you can learn from. Confucius once said,
“If you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room.”
Even if you’ve been a medical writer or managed a medical writing team for a while, don’t forget that times have likely changed since you entered the profession. It may even be valuable to create a “reverse mentorship” with someone more junior than yourself who can offer perspective on new ways of doing things, including engaging the digital world of social media. A less-experienced mentor may also be able help you attract fresh graduates to your team and learn from what other companies are doing to retain their talent.
Another thing to keep in mind is that your mentor doesn’t have to be a medical writer. They could be your professor from college or a friend or family member. Unlike someone who lives and breathes in the same professional space as you, someone from outside your profession can provide a completely fresh perspective. What you may miss could be quite apparent to them. Think of such a person as your career “proofreader” who catches errors and opportunities a simple “spell check” would miss.
How Do I Approach Someone in Medical Writing as a Potential Mentor?
If your company, school, or professional association has a formal mentoring program, you lucked out! Take advantage of it. If you don’t have access to a formal mentoring program you will have to seek one out. Here are a few possible scenarios to help you approach a potential mentor:
- You might offer up your services (could be pro bono, depending on your experience) to someone you admire and have met in social circles. Take them to lunch in return for the opportunity to speak or work with them. While there, pick their brain on the topics that interest you. If the person seems like they might have interest in continuing the relationship, ask them if you might set up regular check-ins with them.
- You come across an experienced Director of Medical Writing in a social media forum such as AMWA Engage. Let them know you enjoy their content and ask whether they might be attending an upcoming industry conference where you could meet them. Send them a message asking whether they might be open to having a phone conversation about their journey in medical writing. While on the phone, mention you’ll be attending the conference. If they're presenting at the conference, make it a point to introduce yourself afterward.
- You see that a friend of a friend recently started working at ABC Pharmaceuticals, and you’d like to know how they made the transition. Ask your friend to introduce you via text or email, and from there explore the person’s willingness to speak with you. You might even bond over a common interest such as a therapeutic area you’re both passionate about.
- You’re an experienced Manager of Medical Writing and have been at a major medical device company your entire 20-year career. Your cousin’s husband’s best friend’s sister is an experienced Director of Medical Writing with a consulting group, and you could use some guidance on a certain aspect of the business. Ask for an introduction and offer to take the person to dinner, where you might form a common bond that opens the door to future discussion and collaboration.
5 Tips to Help You Find and Become a Mentor
- Do your research
- Be flexible and willing to maintain the relationship
- Show thanks and be cognizant of the time your mentor has devoted to you
- Seek mentors both inside and outside your field
- Be a mentor to others
Mentoring in medical writing will be discussed in both an education session and a roundtable discussion at the AMWA 2019 Medical Writing & Communication Conference in San Diego, CA.