How to Get Yourself a Mentor in Data Science

No, you don’t go and ask them to mentor you.

How to Get Yourself a Mentor in Data Science

If not for the guidance of the handful of people I call mentors, I wouldn’t have grown to be a Senior Data Scientist. 90% of the success is all my hard work, but I attribute 10% of that growth to the crucial directions I was guided towards.

After graduating, I didn’t know if I had to pursue a Master's or a Ph.D. or directly step into the AI industry. When I stepped into the industry, I didn’t know how to best handle work and balance life. When presented with opportunities and responsibilities, I didn’t know how to lead people and handle clients. To achieve every milestone in my career, I learned it from my mentors. And I never went and asked them to mentor me.

You never go and ask someone to mentor you.

Mentorship happens organically. Mentors spend a minimal amount of time with you while you do 90% of the work. Most mentors wouldn’t even realize they are one. They don’t expect anything in return from you.

The world of Data Science isn’t the same as how it was five years back. As a mentor who helps students and enthusiasts to break into the world of data science, I understand how hard it is to break into this field and how helpful it would be to have someone to guide you through.

But mentorship isn’t about them; it’s about you. It’s about what you want to achieve and what you would do to get there. In this article, I outline some necessary steps you could put your efforts to get yourself a mentor. Trust me, I say this with experience, in the end, it’ll be worth it.

Finding the right someone

Having the wrong mentor is worse than having no mentor at all. You will only benefit from the right mentor. If you’re seeking guidance from someone just because they’re famous or they have significant accomplishments, then you’re doing it all wrong.

The right mentor is ahead of you in your career (or life in general). It is someone who has done it all concerning what you want to achieve. In my opinion, they should be within 3–5 years ahead, so that they remember everything in detail and can quickly put themselves into your shoe.

The right mentor is someone who is ahead of you in your own career.

Sure, I can mentor someone in school, but I’d have forgotten all my priorities of 10 years back when I was in school. I can be a good mentor, but not a great one. That’s an example, but you get my point.

And these great people are around you, in college, at work, in the community. Finding the right mentor is just the first step; what do we do next?

Be mindful of their time

Mentors do not need you. They have done the hard work, they have hustled through, and learned it all through the experience. They have their own goals and are working towards achieving them. You need them; let that sink in.

So always always always be mindful of their time. I can’t stress this enough. Mentors appreciate it when you’re mindful about their limited time, and they’ll likely want to help you more. Let me give you a real, unedited example of someone who reached out the right way.

Hi Arunn! I really appreciate the advice you’ve given in your posts! I’m currently a Data science & analytics undergraduate student so am trying to build up a portfolio. Maybe a far reach, but I would like to take your advice and ask for feedback on a personal project (if you have the time, ofc!). <insert link> Thank you :)

Honestly, I was busy working on something important when I received this comment on one of my earlier posts. But it was evident that he or she was very mindful about my time, which made me want to help. I left a note I’d get back in a couple of days when I’m free, and I went through the personal project to give feedback. We continued the conversation further in LinkedIn later.

There’s more to this. What other things did this person get right?

Do your research and be specific

Photo by Startup Stock Photos from Pexels

There’s a ton of information available online for free. What are some best courses out there to learn python? You can find out. How is Andrew Ng’s Machine Learning course? You can find out. Googling and finding out is a must-have skill. All information is out there for you to do the initial research.

What does it have to do with mentorship? It’s easier to help someone who had done their basic research. That way, they can help you with more advanced stuff and make it more meaningful for both you and the mentor.

When you reach out to someone you think is the best person to seek guidance from, be very specific once you have done the research. Be very specific on what you want to achieve and how they can help you with.

Let’s go back to our example. Not only was this person mindful about my time, but he or she also has done the research, worked on a project, and is looking for feedback on the work. It was specific enough for me to give some actionable insights.

You have received some actionable insights from the mentor; what’s next?

Put in the hard work and show them the results

Once you get some actionable insights or advice, what are you waiting for?! Take them religiously and start working on it. Put in the effort till you get it done; it’s the only way you could improve yourself. Do the real work, the hard work. You would see yourself transforming.

Once you get it done, show it to them. It’s how you gain their confidence, signaling that you’re serious about this. Trust me; most people lag off when it comes to putting the hard work in. More importantly, showing them the results gets you precious feedback for your work.

More often than not, you’ll receive more insights into your work. Actionable insights. Insights on what you have done well and what you can improve on. The more effort you put in, the more help you get. That’s how you grow faster and faster.

Appreciate and iterate

You must appreciate your mentor for their time and guidance. I am indeed thankful to all my mentors for guiding me unconditionally, and I make sure I let them know how much it means to me. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have grown to what I am now in my career.

Please take a moment to appreciate them whenever you can. And you don’t stop there. Mentorship isn’t a one time process; it’s never-ending. You take the insights and advice you received, keep working on it, and keep showing the results; you will naturally grow and succeed in your career.

You take the insights and advice you received, keep working on it and keep showing the results; you will naturally grow and succeed in your career.

We have discussed so much about what to do and not do and the entire process in detail. While all of that is important, I need to give you actionable summarized steps to take away from this article. It’ll give you a framework on how you can get yourself a mentor!

The step by step summary

I could have presented these straightforward steps upfront for you to follow. I would never do that. We all need to better understand the process and absorb the details to work best for you and your mentor. Here are the summarized steps you can take away and follow.

  1. Understand why you need a mentor. Find clarity on what you want to achieve. Mentorship is about you, not about the mentor.
  2. Find the right someone who essentially is ahead of you in your career.
  3. Remind yourself to be mindful of their time.
  4. Do your research first and be specific in your conversations.
  5. Take their advice and insights and get back to them with your results.
  6. Appreciate them for what their guidance and iterate back to step 3!
Photo by Kraken Images on Unsplash

And finally, when you reach the heights (which you definitely will, my friend), don’t forget to give back to the community. The satisfaction of seeing people succeed with the smallest of my efforts has been the most rewarding moments in my career.

Before you go

After all these years, I still have mentors who I turn to when I need help. Now, they’re more of friends whom I can count on when I need one. I volunteer as a Mentor at OpenMined and do whatever little I can back to this data science community. I share all my learnings and thoughts from my data science journey here at Medium.

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