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Any tips on finding a mentor?

Discussion in 'Education and Career Development' started by Lighting Newb, Apr 18, 2016.

  1. Lighting Newb

    Lighting Newb Member

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    I know there's not really a direct answer finding one but... does anyone have any tips for finding a good mentor in lighting (besides walking up to someone and asking them to be mine)? I've noticed that being technical isn't absolutely necessary to being successful but I'd like to end up doing something that takes skill and knowledge and isn't done by rote. I read text books, take console and electricity classes, and ask questions on the job but I'm eager to do a little extra to get ahead. I'm also low on the totem pole so I get very limited access to people who plan and run the show.
     
  2. josh88

    josh88 Remarkably Tired. Fight Leukemia

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    Finding a community theatre or something local looking for some extra hands is a good place to start. Working your way up is a great way to learn, prove you can be trusted and depended on and work hard and it'll start to pay off and you'll start to move up, build relationships and suck all the information you can out of anybody willing to chat and show you something new.

    Outside of that, which is sounds like you're doing, find a school or somewhere small that needs a hand to make stuff look better, but where you can't do much damage or disappoint as you bumble through and learn as you go. For them, anything better than 0 is an improvement and you're getting hands on time and a chance to dive into something.
     
  3. Lighting Newb

    Lighting Newb Member

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    That sounds like the most reasonable path except that I end up working with people like this $400-day rate technician who couldn't explain to me what a universe is. I find myself having to ask the same question multiple times to make sure I got the right answer. From experience, it feels like most people learn just enough to get by then stop, severely limiting their potential. And I'm apprehensive about working my way up by being good at something I don't like doing. I'm afraid of being pigeonholed.
     
  4. josh88

    josh88 Remarkably Tired. Fight Leukemia

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    One thing I learned and still follow is go ahead and ask the same question 1000 times to 1000 people. Each one will have a different answer. some will be wrong. period. Many (hopefully) will be right and often the answer will be slightly different. I've lost track of how many times I've learned something that I already know when someone gives me a better explanation or sums it up in a way that makes more sense for me.

    I'm the type that always tries to keep learning. I ask questions when I don't know, I ask questions when I do know to see if people have different methods for the same end goal, and I started with trial and error and I continue with trial and error. All I know is I've made a career of what I don't want to do. I'm glad to know how to stage manage or direct, I also know I don't ever want to do it again, but in a pinch I could. Eventually that turns into finding what really makes you happy and focusing in. I'm a generalist. Always have been, I want to know a little about everything. I KNOW I'm a solid carpenter, I like the challenge of mixing shows, I enjoy lighting design, I find calm in painting. you'll start to figure that stuff out as you go and in this world, if you're a hard worker, its easy to shift your focus and redirect if you change your mind.

    my 2 cents. all about me, but maybe a helpful perspective?
     
  5. ruinexplorer

    ruinexplorer Minion CB Mods Premium Member Fight Leukemia

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    Are you hoping to become a good lighting tech, a master electrician, or working as a designer? Those are separate areas that you will want to be mentored. Something else is that you want to think long term in your goals. You shouldn't discount short term advances such as having someone mentor you on a single call or production for your overall long term goal. That being said, starting out on a wonderful forum such as this, with plenty to learn from very talented people, the choice of your user name will not be beneficial in the long haul.
     
  6. TuckerD

    TuckerD Active Member Premium Member

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    Great advice in this thread. @josh88 has a lot to say that sounds very similar to how I got my start.

    In your original post @Lighting Newb you sound like you think that "just walking up and asking someone to mentor you" is a bad way to go about things. Personally, doing exactly that has worked pretty well for me. It's important to be careful about how you ask and who. Just walking up and saying "Hey, will you mentor me?" might not sound the best but "Hey, I really admire your work and would love to sit down and ask you some questions. Would you be willing to sit down and have lunch with me sometime this week?" sounds pretty good. And if you do get to have lunch with that person that you want to learn from, ask good questions and have a conversation. And thank them.

    I've even used the line, "Hi <name>, I could really use some mentorship on this issue. Would you be willing to sit down and talk with me about it?". Of course that email is usually a bit longer and contains some information about what that issue is.
     
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  7. STEVETERRY

    STEVETERRY Well-Known Member

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    Tucker, you seem to have the Midas touch in this area. I speak from experience in willingly coming under your spell! :)

    You might want to tell more about your results. That would encourage others to follow your method!

    PS--ETC is very glad to have Tucker as an employee!

    Cheers

    ST
     
  8. TuckerD

    TuckerD Active Member Premium Member

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    Preface:

    Oh yeah! In my first post I forgot to mention that CB is a great place to find mentors. The people here really like answering questions, so keep asking them @Lighting Newb.

    This is a bit of a pay it forward post because it could not have been written without the help of several people who have mentored me along the way. Including by reading a draft of this post. They have instilled in me a desire to help students who are asking the same questions I was just a few years ago. 5 or 6 years has happened so fast.

    -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-

    Sure Steve. :D

    The topics of education, student outreach, and recruitment are topics that I've spend a great deal of time thinking about, and I love talking about it! Not only do I want to help other students get connected with great people and share my thoughts, I've really benefited from their study. While not specifically mentioned in that list mentorship can be a major part of those topics.

    As far as how to go about finding one, I would start by figuring out who you want to have as a mentor. This really depends a lot of factors, one of which is what you want to do. I won't get into too many details about how to figure what you want to do or who your "target" mentor is. There are so many possibilities here, but in general they should be someone who's work you admire, which can be anyone! From a friend, to a business partner, stranger, or employee / employer.

    My first mentor took me on (and I am soo glad she did!) by telling me to check out the light board and answering my questions when she could. So began an obsession with lighting control (no pun intended, I've never used an obsession). She wasn't exactly a lighting pro and I pretty quickly surpassed her knowledge (at least of lighting). The greatest advice she ever gave me was that "Someone makes those consoles, they don't grow on trees." From that moment on, or shortly thereafter I had to find out more about that. And I did, lots of research lead to one thing and then another. That's when I figured out that @STEVETERRY had an account (and was public about it) on Control Booth PLUS I was able to talk to someone else (Hi @dvsDave!) about it. He said that I should go for it and message Steve. I was very excited, but I couldn't just send him any old message and hope that he replied. And so the real work began.

    How to write an email and ask a question:

    Another mentor of mine gave me a bit of advice on the matter, which was to tell the person why you picked THEM to email. While writing this post I've decided to look back at how I first contacted -ST. I wish I was half as good of a writer then as I am now. I could have been much much more eloquent and not sound so overly praiseful. Here's a tip, read your emails twice! It was important that I let Steve know that I really admired his work. If you don't admire this person's work, then don't say so! This isn't supposed to be about lies and brown nosing.

    You should write or talk about what, specifically, you are impressed by. A bit of research about that is important. For me contacting Steve, I read some articles and papers that he wrote and did a bit of historical research on some of his accomplishments. To reiterate, I didn't lie! I just told him that I really looked up to his work. In the case of trying to find a lighting mentor or technician mentor they may not have as much publicly available articles or work. Just talk about what you do know, "I really liked working that load in with you! You seem like you really know what's going on."

    The second part of that message should be about you. Why should this person spend any of their valuable time on you / your email? This was particularly hard for me at first, as I don't often like to talk about all of the things I've done (which I do think are pretty cool, but I don't want to seem arrogant). This means a bit of an introduction, some of the things you've accomplished and are proud of, and what you think you want to do / what your goals are. Just a few sentences really, but it's importan. Sell yourself!

    The third part of your message is what you actually want to talk about. What is / are your questions that you want this person to answer. You might not get a lot of their time so make them count and don't ask fake questions! I asked Steve about R+D in the lighting industry and how software engineers fit in, which was a real question I had at the time. Why did I ask him? Because it's his job to oversee a very large R+D department in the lighting industry! Kind of like if you are interested in asking about what the Master Electrician does at the theatre you should ask him, or his boss, or his bosses boss.

    Finally, be thankful. Your time is valuable and so is theirs! If they've spent any of it on you you should be grateful.

    I got pretty lucky here (in my book) because my first email (actually, message on Control Booth) was really a bit mediocre in terms of grammar and spelling, but the person I sent it to was kind enough to spend some time talking to me and answering my questions. It's a bit of a shame that I lost our subsequent communication, but this was the first, and most important, step. My second email was much much better. I could continue this story past here, but to save everyone from reading another 1,000 words I'll try to wrap it up.

    It really comes down to knowing what you want to learn and finding the person who can teach it to you. After that you have to ask! The worst thing that has ever happened to me after asking someone I respect for a bit of advice or knowledge is that they have said "Sorry, I can't right now. Maybe another time?" Obviously in my case it was over email, but like I said it's easy if you just ask. And it's much easier after you go through this two or three times. Doing so in person isn't really different. Here is a summary of a conversation I had with someone else that became a mentor and a friend.

    "Hi, Rob?"

    "Yes..."

    "My name is Tucker D, and I'm currently a student and intern at ETC. I was just listening to your talk on _____________, I really enjoyed it, although I'd already listened to most of it from <some other source> . I'm really impressed by what you and your business have done and would love to sit down and talk about it if you have the time."​

    "Sure thing Tucker, nice to meet you. What do you want to talk about"​

    Boy was that a good conversation! I do think my introduction was a bit longer than that, but it's a really simple outline you can follow. If you really mean what you say, I'm sure you will have good results.

    And since Steve asked specifically for results, this method and good communication skills have lead me to getting advice from some people I really respect. I won't be too detailed, but I am employed and working on some really cool stuff.

    My final tip in this post is that you can never have too many mentors, and you should have some close ones and some distant ones. They will all be a bit different in terms of what they have knowledge on, and depending on the issue you are seeking advice about you should ask more than one person! (Speaking of which, there is a couple of emails I've been meaning to write...)

    I would love to hear more from some other users though; they might have different advice, tips, stories and educate me a bit!
     
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2016
  9. EricVan

    EricVan Member

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    Socratic irony at its finest, i like your method and follow it completely.
     
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  10. Lighting Newb

    Lighting Newb Member

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    Thank you @TruckerD for the great advice.
     
  11. Thoms

    Thoms New Member

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    I was in the same situation just a few years ago. I sent out a letter to all the local theater and a few replied saying that needed a lot of technical help and that if i even just know the basics i would be a great help and that they would teach me. I would definitely try local theaters. another thing you could try is rental company that needs someone to move equipment. They will teach you so you can help more and you will probably get paid.
    But just finding anyone who will teach you things you don't know stick to them.
     

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