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Find a Mentor

Today we're going to look for a new possible mentor and send them an email with a genuine question about his/her work.

A mentor is someone who takes a personal interest in your success at learning and achieving your goals, and they’re in a position to help you do it by encouraging you and connecting you with ideas, resources, people, and opportunities. Here’s some tips. 

1. 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 worm compost or natural hairstyles. Look on Slideshare (, YouTube, Twitter and blogs to find the perfect person.

2. 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.

3. 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 learning plan or 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.

4. Mentoring is a two-way street. Don’t forget that as a less experienced 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.

5. 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. 

Task Discussion

  • Vesa Linja-aho   Oct. 5, 2011, 4:08 p.m.

    Great! The Finland's top-level open-educational-resource and copyright expert, Mr. Tarmo Toikkanen agreed to be my mentor. The only obstacle was that I wondered a couple of weeks that "dare I ask him?, what if he refuses?".

  • Anya Kamenetz   Sept. 27, 2011, 11:37 a.m.

    From Caroline Woolard:

    --I'm all about doing online research to find mentors in your field of interest. Mentors are great because they share your enthusiasm but have more information and connections in the real world than you do. Most of these people have personal websites, or you can find their email at the school or business where they work. Luckily, the internet exists, so you can introduce yourself to potential mentors without waiting in line after a lecture and/or socializing at a party! ...

    --learn to write really well, in many different styles! How can you do this? Trade time with an editor, writer, or other proof-reader on, or find a friend who will help you improve your writing skills. When you write an email to a potential mentor, use "affinity jargon." I use the term "affinity jargon" to describe the language or style of writing your mentor uses. Find an aspect of this style or "jargon" that resonates with you, and use that style/jargon when writing to your potential mentor. For example, when I wrote an email to Lewis Hyde, I opened with poetry because he loves poetry. After catching their attention by communicated in a style that they understand, your job is to demonstrate your research and connection to their work. Once they understand that you know who they are and respect them, you should demonstrate your value to them. What have you done that they might care about? What are you about to do that you'd like advice about? Make a clear connection between what they do and who you are.

    --Figuring out how to interact with wealthy people and to demand respect is very much related to the way I grew up. If you didn't grow up that way, you should remember (and remind anyone who discriminates) that you too deserve to be treated as a unique individual, and that no dream is too big for you. On top of that, you might consider finding a class-ally (like me) who can talk to you about unspoken codes of conduct.

    I currently teach 2 undergraduate courses at Parsons, but I don't have a masters degree.
    How did this happen?

    I'm teaching a class to undergraduates at Parsons. Pascale Gatzen told her Dean to consider the class. I met Pascale at Mildred's Lane, an alternative school/residency in Honesdale, PA. At Mildred's Lane, she heard about Trade School and OurGoods, two independent barter initiatives I'd been working on. I'd been doing them as a volunteer with 2 main collaborators (see #4) and others for 2 years, and reading tons of books about barter on my own at the same time. I went to Mildred's Lane because I met the director, Morgan Puett, at a residency I went to straight out of school (Oxbow in Saugatuck, MI). I got to go to Oxbow because I applied (and worked my ass off on the application) and because my college, Cooper Union, send students there. I got to go to Cooper Union because I applied (and worked my ass off on the application) and went to an art residency in high school called Ox-Bow (in Napa, CA) where I developed a portfolio and because I went to a private high school where I learned how to write well (and my mom helped me learn to write).

  • AJC   Sept. 28, 2011, 3 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Anya Kamenetz   Sept. 27, 2011, 11:37 a.m.

    This is really useful advice. Thanks Anya!

    For me personally, I like to pull form a pool of people I know in person. I tend to be more likely to hold myself accountable to people I know well because the fear of letting them down or coming off as unreliable is much greater. This may seem like an overly emotional psychology to lean on when it comes ot learning but accountability is key when you're self directing it!


  • AJC   Sept. 26, 2011, 3:20 p.m.

    Hey all! Wondering if anyone here has begun to develop a mentor network yet? I've started thinking about my current mentors and what reasons I should give them to join P2PU and signup to my persoanl learning plan so they can follow along and give advice an feedback. I'd ideally like to have them all on P2PU within the next two weeks.

    What approaches have ya'll taken? Would love to hear!


  • Wendy Dunst   Sept. 28, 2011, 4:14 p.m.
    In Reply To:   AJC   Sept. 26, 2011, 3:20 p.m.

    I'm leaning towards asking a couple of IRL mentors to keep me accountable and help me with the local aspects of my Learning Path, and some experts who I'll attempt to connect with online.

    I'm not actively recruiting mentors right now because I'm not quite ready to start my Learning Path, but I have jotted down ideas for who I want to ask.