I have been very lucky in this area. As a first generation,
nontraditional undergraduate student, I was totally lost when it came to
planning for graduate school. All I knew was that I wanted to study
viruses. I now have an unoffical mentor, who has been extremely
helpful. She has given me so much good advice that I could never begin
to list it. I start an independent research project soon. I would
never have thought about taking it. In fact, my unoffical mentor gave
the name of the person I'm going to be working with, who has also been
great. My mentor has suggested that I find a job working in a lab. I
have since done so and gotten great information from the post-doc and
grad student in the lab.
The one thing that all of them have in common is that they are women.
They also love what they are doing and want to share that. I have heard
the good, the bad and the ugly of doing research. I have gained a
clearer view of what to expect, advice and encouragement. I think that
the most important thing in a mentor is the ability to remember what it
was like when they were an undergraduate or graduate starting out. That
and a willingness to share those experiences with others.