This thread is for anyone with any academic background.
How did you find a mentor, and how did you benefit from the experience? If you did not, would you have chosen one given the chance or did you feel you did not need mentoring?
Having a mentor is good because it helps you establish connections in academia. It's always good to have a friend-of-a-friend that can help you out.
I found a couple mentors just by asking for advice. For example, I met my academic advisor as soon as I decided my major. I went to the chair of the department, asked him if he had a minute and said "I want to be a good student, any tips?" And it went from there. I regularly stopped by every couple weeks just to talk and he gave me advise on what classes to take, scholarships, REUs to apply for, etc.
I suppose many department chairs aren't as open as mine was, but it really doesn't have to be a chair. Start with one of your professors if you have to, start going to office hours sometimes. That's what I did for my research advisor. I had him for a "special problems" class, and after the class ended I continued to go to his office and ask about his research and if there was any way for me to get involved (if they say no... ask if they know anyone else)
As a result of this I got really good recommendation letters (they rang out more than "He got an A in my class") and was able to get into a number of top graduate schools.
Finding a mentor isn't really like finding a girlfriend or anything, it shouldn't feel like some kind of a commitment. I like the word "advisor" better because it's clearer what you should ask of them -- advice. It kind of evolves into a mentor-mentee relationship over time as they start taking interest in your doings. If it seems that they don't like to talk to you much or give advice... then they don't want to be a mentor! Just find someone else. Like I said, you don't have to commit to one person, and it's even best if you don't since you'll start building a circle of influence by building a "council of advisors."
Personally, what I did was that, after I passed my qualifier, I literally shopped around. While I knew what I did not want to do, I had to clear idea of what area I wanted to work in. So I did actually look at every single faculty member and figure out what they were doing, when they last published, how many students are working with them, etc. etc. I also asked other more senior grad students and get as much info about what they did and what they think about their Advisors. And then, after I narrowed down to a few, I literally walked up to them and talked to them about what they were doing, if they are accepting new grad students, etc... etc.
It was only after doing those that I chose my advisor. In other words, what I outlined in the essay as the criteria for choosing an advisor is almost exactly what I used.
We Value Quality
• Topics based on mainstream science
• Proper English grammar and spelling We Value Civility
• Positive and compassionate attitudes
• Patience while debating We Value Productivity
• Disciplined to remain on-topic
• Recognition of own weaknesses
• Solo and co-op problem solving