Growing your career with professional support

Guest post from AJ Lauer, EdD, owner of Thriving Ibis Leadership Solutions

You’ve likely heard that you “should have a mentor” or that being a mentor is good for your career, but what does that mean? And is mentoring the right thing? Today I’ll cover three different kinds of professional support – what they mean and when you may want to pursue them.

A quick note before we get into the details: don’t be afraid to ask for or offer help! We all need support from other people to grow in our careers. And chances are, we all want to support others in their professional development as well.

I recently had a female scientist tell me that she wants to become a mentor but wasn’t sure she was ready, or how to find mentees. I’ve known this woman for several years and was surprised to hear this – she’s great and anyone would be lucky to have her as a mentor. My advice? To get involved with a formal mentoring program to practice. Once she is comfortable with the mechanics of mentoring, offer to help when she meets other folks who seem like they could benefit from the things she knows.


Mentors help us out by passing on their knowledge. They inquire as to where we want to go in our careers and offer resources, connections, or advice to help get us there. Mentorship can come in many forms. Formal mentoring programs abound – from brief conference interactions, to internships, to lengthy highly-structured formats. Mentoring can also be informal, from a one-time interaction to someone you check in with for many years. Mentoring can come from people farther in their careers, from our peers, and even from people earlier in their career.

You likely want to pursue several mentoring relationships. No one knows everything, after all! One person may mentor you on your career progression, another on technical aspects of your job, and yet another on necessary interpersonal skills.


A coach acts as a thought partner, helping to process information or make decisions based on our own knowledge. They ask thoughtful questions to drive our thinking or to help understand situations in a new way.

A supervisor or mentor may employ coaching techniques to help you overcome obstacles. You may also use the services of a trained executive or leadership coach – an impartial third party whose role is purely to help you figure things out. Coaching services may be available through your Human Resources or Training department, or you can pursue a coaching relationship external to the workplace.


Sponsors are the people who bring up your name in the rooms where things happen. They’re the ones who say, “we should make sure to send Jane this job description – she’d be a perfect fit,” or “Ling has a great idea for how to solve this problem.” They’re the ones who leverage their own clout to boost your career.

In fact, women with sponsors are 200% more likely to see their ideas implemented than those without.

Sponsors are aware of what you can do and what you want to do, and speak up to help get you there. If you know someone who is in the rooms you want to be in, don’t be afraid to reach out to ask for sponsorship. The person may have suggestions for additional skills to build to help you be really successful in the role you’re aiming for. Pursue those skills and let your potential sponsor know about your progress. That way they’ll know when you’re ready and can put your name out there.

These are only three of the many ways we can help one another in the workplace. Don’t be afraid to take opportunities to move in and out of these roles as they come up. The person you are supporting will benefit, and you will too.

About AJ

Dr. AJ Lauer helps science and technology leaders thrive both inside and outside of the workplace. She is an expert on HPC diversity and workforce development. Her company Thriving Ibis Leadership Solutions. provides a tailored-to-you mix of workshops, coaching, and consulting to provide individual and team leadership development, and help build inclusive workplaces.

AJ holds an EdD in Interdisciplinary Leadership from Creighton University, MS in Higher Education Administration from Florida International University, and BA in Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.