75% of people regard having a mentor as a very important aspect of professional development, yet less than 50% of people are able to have such guidance, according to an Olivet Nazarene University study in 2018.
So, for those studying an online master’s such as one in data science, or just beginning their career and looking for guidance, what sort of mentorship and support options are available?
What is a mentorship?
A wide array of areas can be covered by a mentorship, including career path guidance, improving executive presence, skill development, and more.
For those who are studying an Online Master’s in Data Science, it could also include the chance to become a part of new experimental projects, while aspiring professionals may wish to be given guidance on which of the numerous data science pathways they would be best suited to following.
A mentor can fill a variety of different roles such as an adviser to offer guidance based on their own professional experience, a critic to offer actionable and constructive feedback of your work, a sounding board to bounce ideas off or brainstorm new ideas with, a resource through which you can gain new tools, and education or access to a wider network.
A mentor is not the same as a supervisor, tutor, therapist or job coach.
Data science mentorships will inevitably vary depending on the institution at which you choose to study an online master’s course and on the individuals who are involved.
What do you want in a mentor?
Networking and building relationships involves considering what it is you want out of a mentoring relationship, what you can learn from them, and what you will be able to contribute in return.
You will need to consider how much time you will be able to give to such a mentorship, whether you need mentoring in the long term or just for a short while, and whether your need to have a mentor is immediate or is something to have a little later down the road.
How to find a mentor
There are a number of different paths through which you could find a mentor and there is no correct method.
If you are working, you may wish to check with your HR department or manager in order to find out if there are any mentorship programs already available in your organization, while some services provide mentorship in return for a paid membership.
Another good way to find a mentor is through a recommendation, such as via a trusted colleague, classmates, a friend in the industry, or some other worthwhile connection.
Should the first recommendation turn out to be a poor fit, it may be a good idea to see if they could connect you with an individual who has particular experience in your own field of industry.
Events and conferences can also be used to meet more people, including in the data science community.
If you have a business card, bring one and try to begin conversations at organized gatherings, on project nights or between presentations, and investigate local events via online sites where like-minded enthusiasts gather to work, share and present each week.
Online mentorship is also available, and not just for those taking online master’s degrees, as long-distance support can always be found in other ways.
Make use of the online community in your specialty field as a resource when trying to find a mentor, and make sure that you keep in with related organizations and try to take part in discussions with fellow professionals on social media sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter.
For those who are studying data science online, some colleges will offer specialized mentorship programs.
One notable example of this is Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Master of Data Science program – student advisors on the program will assist online students by advising them on their degree path and helping to choose the specializations that are best suited to their career aspirations, giving them a greater understanding of the cost of tuition and the available financial aid, providing guidance on questions related to the course, and ensuring that students stay on track to graduate.
The mentorship and support programs build a strong relationship in order to help students achieve success in their course, enable them to connect to academic resources, and periodically check in to monitor their progress.
There are a number of helpful tips that those seeking to find a mentor should keep in mind on their search.
One good tip is to never hesitate when trying to forge connections – strike up a discussion with people in regard to their work and try to find out what you could learn from them.
If you are contacting someone cold, always be specific about what it is you are looking for.
Rather than trying to flatter someone, simply inquire about their process while demonstrating your familiarity with their work, and make it clear what you could have to offer in a mentorship relationship.
You never know when you might meet someone who you want to remember your name and how to get in touch with you, so always bring business cards with you.
It is also important to remember that if a mentorship does not feel like a natural fit, you should not try to force it.
If the mentorship does not seem to be working out, do not be afraid to say that you feel that it would be better for both of you if you found someone else, and even ask if they could recommend a person who could be a better fit.
Navigating a career, changing industries, learning new skills and studying the likes of an online master’s in data science can all be greatly assisted by the invaluable leadership and support system offered by another professional.
The mentorship of someone with a greater amount of experience can even still be of help to those who consider themselves to be seasoned professionals.