Tips for Grads: Reaching out to potential mentors

By Lydia Gandy-Fastovich, PhD student

Mentorship is an important aspect of success in graduate school, but connecting with a potential mentor can be difficult. It can be intimidating to reach out to someone with a higher status career title or tenure in your desired field. However, there are some general guidelines that Fatimah Williams, PhD, CEO of Beyond the Tenure Track, shared to aid you in crafting a message to a potential mentor. Here’s what to include in the message you craft to a potential mentor:

  • Start with how you know them.
    • In preparation for reaching out, do some research on the potential mentor. Read interviews, podcasts, and other highlights that promote their work and interests. Check out their LinkedIn profile or their personal website. Contextualize how you know about them when reaching out to them.
  • Share a little about yourself and your goals.
    • Craft information to share about yourself. What information does this person need to know about you in order to be an effective mentor?
    • Show enthusiasm and commitment to the area of work in which you have a mutual interest. Share what you’ve done in that area and why you’re interested in it. Give insight into how you work, so the potential mentor understands your needs better. Potentially explain how you can help them, too.
  • Include a specific request.
    • If you’d like feedback, guidance, or insight into something specific, let them know. However, it is appropriate to also just build a connection without asking for something in return.
  • Be flexible.
    • As a sign of respect for the potential mentors’ time, create flexibility and acknowledge the value they bring. Give a couple of options as to how you connect or engage with one another and plenty of lead time.

This edition of Tips for Grads was adapted from Fatimah William’s workshop on How to Develop a Mentor Network for Academic and Career Success.

Tips for Grads is a professional and academic advice column written by graduate students for graduate students at UW­–Madison. It is published in the student newsletter, GradConnections Weekly.