How to seek mentorship in industry?  

 

Colleague 45202
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March 7, 2019 2:13 am  

Hi, I am about to leave academia and join industry. In academia, we typically talk to PI or other professors for mentorship and they are always glad to help the student. Some may even allow me to knock the door anytime. I have no problem as a student admitting that I don't know something and I am not afraid of trying and making mistakes. The professors are also not against the students exploring something new and out of the PI's research domain.

What does it like to work in industry? How often can I seek help from my manager? I am worried that I may make some mistakes and no one will find it until it is too late. What do I need to pay attention to? Am I allowed to talk freely to all people, including my boss's boss? How can I balance finishing assigned work and seeking long-term growth? Sorry for these naive questions, but I don't have any work experience. Any comments would be welcome. 


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Dave Jensen
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Joined: 4 months ago
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March 7, 2019 2:24 am  

Welcome to our Forum discussion! You have a very good question, and one that should be able to get some nice responses from others on this site. Because we've just moved from one location to another, readership is down while we get set up here . . . but that shouldn't affect the ability of our advisory team to participate. 

Yes, it's different in industry. But industry still has mentors, for sure. You won't be going out for beers after work with your boss most likely, but he or she will probably be available to help you with questions and concerns. That's a part of their job. But many employers also have a formal mentor program, where you are assigned a more senior staff person to be your mentor and you can check in with that person regularly (someone like that is usually not a part of your department). That's good that you recognize you'll need this help to come up to speed, but my guess is that you'll need less of it than you expect. It always looks so very different on the "other side of the street" but in actuality, in industry you are still just concentrating on good science -- it's just a bit more focused, and goal oriented. 

Every company will be different in the mentoring philosophy, but there will be plenty of time for you to find and develop a mentor. Let's see if we can find you some help on the other aspects of your question.

Dave

PS As an aside, go to your profile and come up with a good nickname here. Nothing odd, just some initials or the same or different first and last names. It's just better than being known as Colleague 45202. (We got that from the first George Lucas movie, THX1138 for you sci-fi fans).

This post was modified 2 months ago by Dave Jensen

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PG
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March 25, 2019 3:41 pm  

I am going to try to break your questions up and then add some general comments about mentorship in industry.

 

How often can I seek help from my manager?

This is going ot depend on your manager. Most managers will do frequent checks on the progress and quality of the work of new staff. Once they hopefully see that the person is delivering high quality results at expected speed the checks will decrease in depth and number. This is to avoid exactly what you are talking about ie mistakes made due to now knowing. Most manager try to be available when needed for their staff also when they are no longer new.

Am I allowed to talk freely with anyone including my boss´s boss?

Again it will depend on the Company and the manger. In the Company I work for anyone can talk with anyone if the purpose is to either find information or to for example provide relevant feedback that needs to reach the level of staff that you are talking with. obviously anyone can also smalltalk with anybody else. It is good practice to always inform your boss about anything that you intent to bring up with his/her boss before you do it especially if it is concerning the activities in your group. IF I have not heard anything from my project team I for example dont like if am being told by my boss something like " I heard that you have insufficient Resources in Project team x now when person A is on PTO and that this is delaying the Project. What are you doing about it?"

How can I balance finishing assigned work and seeking long term growth?

Generally finishing assigned work comes first and especially when you are new. To get time to do things that leads to long term growth you at some point (probably not your first week at work) will have a discussion with your manager about your development plan. In our company we have a formalized process for this and it will come up relatively quickly. In this development plan we try to build in working tasks that will allow the person to develop skills that will be useful for his long term growth. This means that they will be outside what the person is normally doing and sometimes for example outside the project. Thereby the tasks leading to long term growth also becomes assigned tasks. Similar to when you are new at the company this type of tasks usually requires coaching / mentoring and less frequently formal training.

 

As for finding a mentor we are one of those companies that actively assigns a mentor to new hires. This mentorship will last for a number of months until the person is trained and can find his way around by himself. Of course managers and Project leaders etc also have a mentoring / coaching role. Sometimes we have also had formal mentoring programs for example aimed at relatively new managers or other groups. There are also several people who has informal mentors that they are meeting with regulary for example for lunch and discuss different types of questions.


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Dave Jensen
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March 25, 2019 4:21 pm  

Thanks PG -- As I understand it, your employer is not a Fortune 100 sized company, either. Your firm is a small to medium sized company? And you have a formal mentorship program -- that's great. Its been my experience as well, that oftentimes even smaller firms will have this kind of program. 

While it may only be formal for three months, my guess is that those relationships last much longer than that in the real world.

Dave 

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PG
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March 25, 2019 6:03 pm  

Nowdays we are an independent Company but fully owned by a fortune 500 Company. We did however have formal mentorship programs locally from when we were around maybe 150-200 staff. We were expanding quickly and saw a need of providing better support for new staff entering the Company and also for new managers. A lot of people got promoted relatively quickly and needed additional support.


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