Build a Mentoring Network

About Mentoring Networks

While mentorship has traditionally been considered a dyad relationship, we now know that no one mentor can serve all of the roles needed to develop a successful career. A mentoring network, composed of multiple individuals with diverse backgrounds and skill sets, is necessary to provide support and guidance.

Who is in a mentoring network graphic.


Read More About Mentoring Networks

A researcher’s mentoring network often includes skills/scientific mentor(s) who provide support in technical skills, resources, and training that relate to the content of their research, and developmental mentor(s), who provide support in areas of professional development and career advancement. These networks also include work-life mentor(s), who provide support on personal-professional integration, and peer mentor(s), or colleagues at a similar career stage, who can relate to shared experiences and challenges. In addition to mentors, mentoring networks also contain mentee(s), individuals for whom the researcher provides training, support, and advice. The diagram above outlines the roles that typically make up a mentoring network.

Factors that make for a dynamic mentoring network include:

  • Mentors and mentees in a network should come from various sources, such as within a home department or institution, from external institutions, and from support networks such as family and friends.
  • The individuals in a mentoring network should be in varying career stages, some above, some below, and some at the same career level as the researcher.
  • The strength of connections within a mentoring network should vary, with some very close relationships that provide significant support, and other, more distant relationships.
  • The individuals within a network should come from diverse backgrounds (e.g., gender, race, scientific research focus, degree/training).
  • Over time, the composition of a mentoring network should shift in response to changing needs.


Map Your Mentoring Network

Mentoring networks provide you with support and guidance throughout your career. The goal is to routinely cultivate, reevaluate, and grow your mentoring network in response to your changing professional and personal needs. This section describes an easy, hands-on exercise to visualize and explore your mentoring network.

*The Developmental Network Excercise guides you through drawing and analyzing your own developmental mentoring map. By completing this exercise, you can ensure that your current network aligns with your short- and long-term goals and identify gaps in support.

In the video below, Fran Grodstein, ScD, professor of internal medicine at Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center, Rush Medical College, and director of Career Catalyst, explains how to create your mentoring map using the Developmental Network Exercise. To create your own map, watch the video, then click on the button below to download and fill in the associated worksheet.

Download Developmental Network Excercise


Grow Your Mentoring Network

Taking the time to map out and analyze your mentoring network is critical for discovering any gaps and/or misalignment with your goals. However, once these gaps are uncovered, it can be challenging to know how to go about finding additional support. The resources below offer tangible ways to grow your mentoring network.

Identify and Communicate Your Goals
To grow your mentoring network, clearly articulate your background, needs, and goals.

Learn More

Use the resources on the Know Yourself page to reflect on your short- and long-term goals and your personal definition of success. Keep these goals in mind as you grow your mentoring network. 

Write, rehearse, and be ready to use an elevator pitch that describes your research. An elevator pitch is a brief (under 60 seconds) introduction to who you are, what you do, and why it matters.

Our Writing and Communication Center provides guidance on crafting your elevator pitch, including a worksheet and rubric to write and assess your pitch. 

In addition to your elevator pitch, share a brief biography with new contacts. Your brief bio is different from your elevator pitch; you will use this to elaborate on your introduction to share more details about yourself.  Our Writing and Communication Center also has a worksheet and rubric to help you write and assess your brief bio.

When thinking about growing your network, it is also good practice to update your CV to reflect your current accomplishments. 

Network With New People
Meeting new contacts will help you cultivate the support you need. It can feel daunting and awkward to get started with networking, but there are clear steps you can take to make the process easier.

Learn More

Our Writing and Communication Center’s networking page provides practical networking tips and strategies for research team members. This section offers best practices to prepare for, locate, and engage in networking opportunities. In addition to the networking page, the Writing and Communication Center also features pages on expanding your network by: 

Many institutions also offer software tools to grow your network of contacts and potential mentors.  Harvard Catalyst Profiles is an interactive tool that allows you to search for all faculty from Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Dental Medicine, and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. This tool lets you search for researchers by topic, show publications, visualize connectivity between people, and more. Learn more about how Profiles can help you to identify potential collaborators and mentors in this video.

Explore Formal Programs
Many institutions and organizations offer formal mentoring programs. These programs can help you connect with mentors and/or mentees and provide you with targeted resources and dedicated support.

Learn More

To get started, research mentoring programs within your department, institution, or professional society, and consider joining affinity groups for topics of interest. If you are unable to find a formal program within your institution, many national organizations offer mentoring programs that may support your needs. 

Look into Career Catalyst, our longitudinal program that matches early-career investigators with developmental and peer mentors.


Connect with Potential Mentors

Once you have completed the steps above and identified a potential new mentor, it’s time to reach out and connect with them.

When connecting with a potential mentor:

  • Leverage any existing connections to assist with the introduction.
  • If you don’t have a mutual connection, mention how you learned of them (e.g., their talk at a conference or a paper of theirs that resonated).
  • Even if you have had the opportunity to introduce yourself in person, follow up with an email to open up a line of communication.
  • Remember that successful mentoring relationships are mutually beneficial. Be sure to clearly state your goals and needs, and ask what you can do for the potential mentor. See the flowchart below for a suggested approach.

If you both agree to begin a mentoring relationship, use the resources on the Manage Mentoring Relationships page (page coming soon) and the Preparing for Career Development Conversations document to prepare for your first meeting.

Approaching a New Potential Mentor flowchart.



* This Developmental Network Exercise was created in 2015 by S. Jean Emans, MD, and Maxine Milstein, MBA, of Boston Children’s Hospital, and Ellen W. Seely, MD, and Audrey Haas, MBA, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital. This exercise was adapted, with permission, from the work of Kathy Kram, PhD,  of Boston University School of Management.