Our community of current students, postdocs, residents, fellows, faculty, and alumni are a remarkable resource for mentorship and career opportunities.
UCSF Connect provides a community to help you build your professional network and find mentors.
Below are some practical resources to help you make the most of this networking and mentorship tool.
Informational Interviews for Students and Postdocs
What is an informational interview?
An informational interview is just another name for a conversation with a professional who can help you pursue your professional or academic goals. Students and postdocs conduct informational interviews to explore career options, research an organization or residency program, or build their professional networks. For example, informational interviews can be useful for a medical student choosing between residency specialties, or a postdoc who wants to learn about a day in the life of a consultant.
I want to conduct an informational interview. How do I find the right contact?
First, pinpoint your goals by considering three questions:
- Who do I want to meet?
- Why do I want to meet them?
- What specifically do I want to know from them?
Once you are able to answer these questions, use the UCSF Connect directory to search for individuals who might be able to help you accomplish your goals.
You can search UCSF Connect users based on their location, position, organization, industry, and more. UCSF Connect also allows you to search for people based on how they are willing to help you – for example, people who are willing to participate in an informational interview, serve as a mentor, or introduce you to their connections.
I found someone I want to conduct an informational interview with. How do I make a request on UCSF Connect?
Simply click the “Send Message” button on the upper right hand corner of the UCSF Connect user’s profile, and write a clear, concise message:
- Include a subject line.
- Briefly state who you are and why you are contacting them.
- Request an opportunity to meet in person, by phone, or by email.
- Indicate the information you are seeking; for example, organizational culture, job responsibilities, or industry information.
- Close with a thank-you, and say you look forward to hearing from them.
To read a sample informational interview request letter, visit the UCSF Office of Career and Professional Development (OCPD) website.
How do I prepare for my scheduled informational interview?
Once you set up an informational interview, research the individual you will be interviewing. Review their profiles on UCSF Connect and LinkedIn and bio on their organization’s website. The time you spend on research will be worth it because you’ll be well prepared, and you won’t ask questions with answers that can easily be found online.
Next, identify five to 10 questions to ask during the interview. Depending on your goals, questions usually focus on:
- The present: the individual’s day-to-day responsibilities
- The past: the individual’s career trajectory
- The future: coming trends in the field
- Advice: Resources to help you learn more about the field
- Present: Please describe a typical day in your position.
- Past: How did you transition into this field?
- Future: What are some future career paths for someone in your position five to 10 years down the road?
- Advice: Can you recommend anyone else who might be willing to talk to me about their career path?
To find more questions, visit page 3 of this resource from the Office of Career and Professional Development.
How do I follow up after an informational interview?
After the interview, you can send a note through UCSF Connect to thank the interviewee for his or her time. Remember to follow up with them any time something that person said helped you, or any time you see or hear something of interest to them.
To see a sample thank you note, visit page 4 of this resource from the Office of Career and Professional Development.
I read these FAQs but still need help!
Visit this Office of Career and Professional Development (OCPD) page to find out if you're eligible for an appointment. They offer one-on-one career counseling, and workshops on informational interviewing and networking through UCSF Connect.
To schedule an appointment online, visit https://career.ucsf.edu/appointments.
Not eligible? You can still take advantage of OCPD's rich library of online resources.
Tips for Mentors
Reflect on your goals
Mentors provide a variety of benefits: professional guidance, career and academic advice, introductions to connections in the mentee’s field of interest, and access to resources. Just as mentees should think about their goals for mentorship, so should mentors. Before you serve as a mentor, reflect on the different ways that you can support a mentee and the amount of time you are willing to commit to the relationship.
Check email/UCSF Connect regularly
Check UCSF Connect and your email associated with your UCSF Connect account regularly so you don’t miss any mentorship requests.
Set expectations early
When you receive a mentorship request, talk with the prospective mentee about your availability and the ways you might be able to assist them. That can help you and the mentee determine whether you can support them with their goals.
Although one aspect of mentorship may involve providing advice or a referral to your network, another aspect involves actively listening to your mentee. This shows your genuine interest in the mentee and gives them an outlet to reflect on an area they may be grappling with. Maintaining eye contact, paraphrasing and summarizing the information they provide, and asking follow-up questions to clarify their thoughts are ways to show you are actively listening.
Show interest in your mentee by following up with them on things they discuss with you. Wishing them luck on their finals or checking in about their poster presentation will help you maintain a relationship with your mentee and show that you are invested in their success.
Share your successes and failures
When appropriate, share your experience with your mentees. Hearing how you overcame a difficult situation or persevered after a failure can help them feel more comfortable about discussing areas that they currently struggle with and give them ideas about how to approach a challenge.
Give your mentees actionable items to work on between your meetings to help them accomplish their goals. Have them review a resource that you shared or contact a potential networking connection. During your meetings, check in with them on their progress.
Tips for Mentees
All mentorships require an awareness of yourself and your goals, as well as an awareness of what you want from the mentor-mentee relationship. You might want advice on transitioning from academia to industry or guidance as you prepare for the residency application process. As your first step, think about what you hope to learn from your mentor.
Identify multiple mentors
Mentorship holds a variety of benefits, including guidance, advice, information, and introductions to professional connections. However, it may be difficult for one person to provide all of these, so it’s recommended that you find multiple mentors who can provide you with different types of support.
Where to find mentors?
UCSF Connect is a great source for locating potential mentors. One unique feature of the platform is the ability to search for people based on how they are willing to help you. For example, you can search for people in the UCSF Connect Directory who are willing to serve as a mentor, participate in an informational interview, or review your CV/resume. Other resources for finding mentors include LinkedIn, networking events, professional association meetings or conferences, and alumni events. You can browse the UCSF Connect calendar for upcoming events and programs at which to meet potential mentors.
How to approach mentors
Before approaching a mentor, conduct research to identify your commonalities. Do you have any shared connections? Did you attend the same program at UCSF or graduate from the same undergraduate institution? Do you share an interest in a particular area within your field?
When you are ready to approach a potential mentor, click the Request Mentorship button on the right side of their UCSF Connect profile. In the message box, include a brief background about yourself, share any commonalities that you identified, and provide a clear explanation of the assistance you need.
Use the N.O.W. format to help with your correspondence.
W: What do you want to talk about?
Here is a sample request:
Dear Dr. Meyers,
I recently spoke with Dr. Rona Howard, who suggested I contact you. My name is Jane Smith, and I am currently a PhD student in the UCSF Biomedical Science Program’s immunology track. I am interested in working in medical affairs, and Dr. Howard mentioned that you currently work in this area. Can I take 30 minutes of your time to learn about your experience in this role and the current work you are doing? Thank you in advance!
Check email and UCSF Connect regularly
Check UCSF Connect and your email associated with your UCSF Connect account regularly for responses to your mentorship requests.
If you don’t hear back from a potential mentor within two weeks after your initial email, follow up with them. If you still don’t hear from them, or if they are unable to serve as your mentor, don’t give up. Continue searching on UCSF Connect. If you are eligible, also make an appointment with a counselor in the Office of Career and Professional Development (OCPD).
Nurture your mentorship relationship
Once you have established a mentorship relationship, let your mentor know when their advice and support help you – and find ways to help your mentor as well. Send them an article relevant to their industry, or offer to introduce them to your connections in their field. And always remember to thank them for their time.
Consider becoming a mentor
Serving as a mentor can be a rewarding experience. The advice and information that you provide others can be invaluable to their growth and professional development. Consider giving back to UCSF, your profession, and your community by being a mentor.
Networking is just another name for having conversations and building relationships with people in your professional community while you are pursuing your professional goals. As a student, reaching out to friends, advisers, faculty members, mentors, and colleagues can help you learn more about career options and opportunities.
How to find people to talk with and build your professional network
- Register for UCSF Connect. This tool allows alumni to identify the ways they are willing to connect with students and postdocs. You can find alumni who are open to answering questions, reviewing your CV/resume, or participating in an informational interview. Registration takes less than 2 minutes using your LinkedIn or Facebook profile.
- Join our LinkedIn Networking Group! Through this online professional community, you can connect with more than 2,000 community members, learn about job opportunities, hear about upcoming programs, and be part of career discussions with health professionals, population and social scientists, and life scientists.
How to establish a professional relationship
How to network in specific settings
Want more help with approaching someone in your professional community?
- Make an appointment to strategize with an OCPD career counselor.
Tips from Sara Ayazi, a former career counselor and program manager with the UCSF Office of Career and Professional Development.