Maximizing Your Mentor Meetings: Tips for Success

Somehow it’s now January. You’ve gotten past the qualifying round, you’re starting to pull your project together, and you’ve scheduled your mentor meeting for sometime soon. (You have scheduled that, right?) 

Okay, you have your mentor meeting on the calendar. But how are you supposed to prepare for that? What is the point of it? 

A mentor is defined by Oxford Languages as “an experienced and trusted advisor,” and that’s exactly what your mentor’s role is. Your mentor is going to be someone who has experience as an actuary in the real world, so they know a great deal about how to navigate, manage, and execute a project. They know what’s up, and they will have tons of wisdom and advice for you, but you’re going to need to let them know what sort of help you need, so it’s absolutely critical for you to plan for your mentor meeting. 

So how do you do that? 

To be clear, it’s your mentor’s job to give you advice on the work you’ve done, as well as tips on how to proceed. Their job is not to grade or judge your project, or to tell you explicitly what to do or change. Also, it’s important to remember that despite them being the experienced adult, you’re the one leading the meeting, not them. They’re not going to be asking the questions, you are. So if you want to have a productive meeting, you need to be prepared for it. 

Being prepared for your meetings comes down to two things: first, you want to be able to concisely convey what your project is about; second, you want to have a list of questions for your mentor. 

When explaining your project to your mentor, you basically want to have an “elevator pitch” prepared (i.e. a short summary of the important stuff. Emphasis on short! Aim for 3-5 minutes). Doing this will not only help you explain your project to your mentor, it can help remind you to put things in perspective and look at the big picture. Also, the more times you review your project in this “elevator pitch” way, the easier it will be to write up the abstract section in your final paper.

 In addition to your project summary, it’s critical that you identify what in your project you’re struggling with and prepare an explanation of that prior to your meeting. Remember that none of this has to be super formal! The key is to be prepared, but you’re not giving a presentation; you’re going to have a conversation. 

The second part of your preparation is your questions. These are super, duper, uber, important! The more questions you have, the better your meeting will go because your mentor will be able to help you with more aspects of your project. That said, you want to think about your questions and make sure you know what you need help with. Don’t just throw general questions out. 

When you’re brainstorming these, you want to zero in on your trouble points. Even if you’re completely lost, you can still do this. For example, you could ask for tips about finding data and explain what you’ve tried and why it didn’t work; if you don’t know why it didn’t work, you can ask about that! The more specific the question is, the more specific the answer will be, which will help you later. 

Here are some example questions to get you thinking: 

– Should I consider [x factor] in my model? 

– Do you think I’m losing information by not researching/factoring in [x]? 

– Do you have advice for processing this data? 

– I was wondering whether to clean out [x]; do you think this is a good idea? 

Finally, during your meeting, it will be helpful to take notes on the advice your mentor gives you. If you’re working in a team, you can designate a team member to take notes, but having multiple people do this can ensure you don’t miss anything. 

Overall, remember that your mentor is there to help you! They won’t judge you, your work, or the questions you ask. And don’t forget that the better prepared you are, the better your meeting will go!