20 Apr 2017

Finding Mentors Who Help Students Soar

Finding Mentors Who Help Students Soar

For minority students, finding mentors can be a challenge. Here’s how they can overcome barriers.

As an undergraduate at the University of California, Irvine, Jeanett Castellanos, PhD, was just glad she'd made it to college. Neither of her parents—both Cuban ­refugees—had graduated from high school, and they were exuberant about their daughter's success. "I thought I would just get a BA. I didn't think there was anything further," Castellanos says.

But that changed when a friend sought to introduce her to a professor who, she told Castellanos, "is going to change your life," Castellanos recalls. He was Joseph L. White, PhD, now professor emeritus at the university and renowned for his life-changing mentoring of many students. As soon as Castellanos walked into his office, she was greeted by "this charismatic, personable man" who helped her sketch out her educational trajectory on his wall-to-wall chalkboard.

Castellanos fulfilled the vision they outlined that day, which included a master's degree in counseling psychology and a doctorate in higher education. She went on to become director of UCI's Social Science Academic Resource Center, where she helped numerous undergraduate students secure the tools they needed to be ready for grad school. Today, she's a tenured faculty member with her own research mentoring program, and she and White are co-authoring a book on mentoring.

Castellanos's story speaks to the power of this vital academic relationship—how connecting with the right people at the right time can vastly influence a student's school and career trajectory. Yet for first-gener­ation students and many minority students, finding good mentors and getting the most out of these connections can be daunting. That's because in many cases they're not versed in the culture of academe, says White.

"These students are entering a new way of life, and they have to understand that it's more than just the academic side of college or grad school that's important," he says. "They need to get connected to the decision-makers in the field."

The obstacles to finding mentors and otherwise gaining a strong foothold in academe can be psychological as well, says Kevin Cokley, PhD, professor of counseling psychology and African and African Diaspora Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. His research shows that graduate students of color are more likely than white students to experience the "impostor phenomenon"—the belief held by some high-achieving people that they're frauds and will be seen as such. This phenomenon takes on added significance for students of color because they may internalize stereotypes that they're in school simply because of affirmative action, says Cokley, whose results are in press at the Journal of Counseling Psychology.

Minority students "have to understand it's more than just the academic side of college or grad school that's important," says Dr. Joseph L. White, professor emeritus at University of California, Irvine.

"So when you combine that with what most grad students feel about imposterism," he says, "it becomes racialized."

Fortunately, there are ways to overcome such challenges and find great mentors who can help students achieve their highest potential. Here's advice from students and psychologists versed in this valuable relationship:

Know that you need them. Mentors aren't a luxury—they're a necessity, says Andy Choi, a fourth-year student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and member of the APAGS Science Committee. "A lot of the training and socialization that happens in our field is very interpersonal, and those elements aren't necessarily structured into your coursework," he says. So students should recognize that they need others who are more advanced in the field to guide them, he says.

Seek many mentors. The complexity of grad school and crafting a career trajectory means that one mentor is not enough. To succeed, students need mentors to help them gain skills in a range of relevant areas, whether it's in academia, research, networking or other. 

University of Missouri psychology professor Lisa Flores, PhD, for instance, recommends that students have one mentor for their research development, one for networking and finding service opportunities, and another for navigating the world of practice. She also encourages students to seek mentors at different career stages—not just full-fledged faculty or professionals, but peer mentors as well. "Each person has something different that they can contribute to your career," she says. Students should also ask others to recommend people who can guide them, such as advisors, faculty members and fellow students.

Students in research-oriented programs are particularly likely to need more than one mentor—faculty who can address different aspects of the science they are studying, whether in content or methodology, says Choi.

Choose thoughtfully... Students should think about the types of mentors who can best round out their experiences, says Jasmín Llamas, PhD, an assistant professor at Santa Clara University. When she entered grad school, she spent her first year figuring out the kinds of training she was already getting and what she needed to fill in. By her second year, she was prepared to chat with her advisor about her direction and possible mentors who could help get her there. "It's really smart to get a feeling for what you need before you dive in," she says.

For many minority students, it can also help to find at least one mentor with whom they have a strong interpersonal connection. Llamas felt fortunate to have had an undergraduate professor who took strong interest in her academic success and helped guide her into the world of research. It was also a plus that she was, like Llamas, Latina. "We are both quite petite, but the way she carried herself really modeled for me that, ‘OK, you can have something to say,'" ­Llamas says.

...and speak carefully. In a related vein, consider what you want to learn before meeting with your mentor, recommends Joelle Taknint, chair of the APAGS Committee for the Advancement of Racial and Ethnic Diversity, which works to promote a psychology pipeline that represents the nation's ethnic diversity. "Be clear from the beginning about what you're hoping to get out of the experience, and find out what they're willing to give," she says. When mentoring relationships don't work, it's often because there's a mismatch in expectations concerning the scope of the mentoring relationship, she says. "Clear expectations upfront can help both mentor and mentee figure out what is most important for the mentee to get out of the relationship, whether it's networking, research mentoring, preparation for clinical work or other," Taknint says.

Leave your comfort zone. Students shouldn't limit themselves to mentors within their own departments. Going outside the psychology department can provide a more neutral sounding board for students' academic concerns, goals and desires. And for students pursuing interdisciplinary research, going outside the department is, for obvious reasons, a necessity.

In Choi's case, a positive experience with a research mentor from his university's department of education blossomed into a decision to gain an extra master's degree in quantitative methods—an expertise he knows will be valuable in his future research and when he's seeking an academic position. "The takeaway for me is to be open and flexible about finding mentorship outside your immediate field," he says.

Transcend your own stereotypes. While it might make sense initially for students to seek out mentors who share their ethnic or racial background, doing so isn't necessary for success, says Flores. In fact, a 2011 study in the Journal of Social Issues by Stacy Blake-Beard, PhD, of Simmons College, and colleagues found that while minority students may prefer mentors with similar backgrounds, students with different-group mentors have the same academic outcomes as peers with same-group mentors. What's more, it can be hard to find faculty mentors of color because they are few in number and often swamped with mentorship duties.

In Flores's case, most of her mentors have been white, and all have been essential in guiding her career trajectory, she says. Many have been white women who themselves have experienced discrimination in academe. Some also come from low-income backgrounds, a further impediment to academic success.

"These relationships challenged some of my own stereotypes about mentoring"—including that white faculty tend to come from privileged backgrounds and hence might be difficult to relate to. When that proved untrue, it was a valuable lesson, and it's a good one for psychology students in general, Flores says.

Get out there. Students can also connect with new mentors by volunteering or applying for teaching or research positions, Taknint suggests. When she was considering graduate school but wasn't sure whether her application was competitive enough, she took off a year after college and volunteered in the Marquette University lab of Lucas Torres, PhD, who studies Latino health disparities. One day Torres asked her to stick around after a meeting, and he spent the next hour encouraging her to apply to grad school. "He told me he thought I had what it takes, and that he wanted to do whatever he could to help make that happen," Taknint remembers. "That was huge for me, and it gave me the little kick I needed to give grad school a shot."

Students should also get involved with APA, APAGS, their state psychological associations and relevant ­ethnic-minority psychological associations—great places to find professional and other kinds of mentors, Taknint advises. "Any way to get involved in professional communities is a plus," she says.

Give back. Mentoring is often seen as a one-way relationship, with mentors giving and mentees receiving. Instead, students should think of it as reciprocal, and consider ways of giving back, Flores recommends. A particularly valuable way is simply sharing your achievements, both personal and professional. "Don't be shy. Mentors have invested in you as a person and a professional, and they want to be able to celebrate your successes," she says.

Another important way to give back: Become a mentor yourself, including by mentoring peers in earlier stages of graduate study within your program or lab. When Castellanos told White that she wanted to repay him for everything he'd done for her, his answer was always the same: "Pass it on."

Want more insights for helping low-income grad students succeed? Go to https://psychologybenefits.org and search for "strategies for success."

By Tori DeAngelis


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15 Mar 2017

Mentoring Opportunities at APA

Mentoring Opportunities at APA

Mentorship is mutually beneficial. Mentees enjoy the advantage of their mentors’ experience, support and encouragement, and mentors may experience an increase in research productivity and enhanced professional recognition as a result of mentoring. Mentees, specifically doctoral students in the psychology field, benefit from mentorship through the development of professional skills, scholarly productivity, enhanced networking, and increased dissertation success.[1] Realizing the importance of mentorships, APA has taken the position on mentoring that all emerging psychologists deserve quality mentorships that facilitate leadership development.[2]

Listed below are several mentoring opportunities for career development and research experience offered by APA:

Disability Mentoring Program

In an effort to increase the success of underrepresented groups in graduate school and entering professions, the Office on Disability Issues in Psychology offers a mentoring program that supports psychology students with disabilities, early career psychologists with disabilities, and psychologists who develop disabilities. The yearlong program provides these students and psychologists with the opportunity to learn from experienced psychologists with disabilities. The application process for the 2017–18 term begins on Aug. 15, 2017.

LBGT Graduate Student Mentoring Program

The American Psychological Association of Graduate Students Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity (APAGS-CSOGD) offers a yearlong mentoring program from September through August for LGBT graduate students in psychology to be mentored by colleagues who share similar interests, experiences and goals.

Mentors and mentees meet at least six times throughout the program, in person or remotely. Psychology professionals and graduate students who have completed at least three years of psychology may serve as mentors.

Division 2: The Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP) Professional Development Service Program

This program provides graduate students and early career faculty with career-related assistance by matching them with mentors who share their interests. Mentors are fellows of STP and have at least seven years of teaching experience.

Division 17: Society of Counseling Psychology Special Task Group on Mentoring International Students

As a response to the increase in the number of international students in counseling psychology programs and the various challenges, such as language barriers, that these students face, APA formed a task group to provide them with support.

The task group provides an opportunity for international students to become involved in Div. 17 and to connect with other international professionals in the field. The mentoring program enables international graduate students to participate in professional development.

Division 21: Applied Experimental and Engineering Psychology Mentoring Program

Mentees gain the opportunity to learn from the experiences of other industry and academic professionals in a variety of areas, including deciding which graduate courses are appropriate with their future goals, preparing for a board certification, or securing funding for research programs. The mentorship chair of the Division collects applications and assigns mentors.

Division 45: Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity and Race Mentoring Program

This Division's mentoring steering committee connects graduate students who are future practitioners, researchers and scholars with a diverse collection of professional and academic APA members for mentorship.

The mentorship program is dedicated to increasing access for diverse students in professional and academic fields and has matched over 40 students with long-term mentors.

The Minority Fellowship Program (MFP) Psychology Summer Institute (PSI)

Each summer, MFP runs the Psychology Summer Institute at APA, which provides travel support, mentoring, professional development, and networking for 20 advanced doctoral and early career fellows per year via a one-week intensive training. PSI receives partial support from the SAMHSA Fellowship grants.

Participants receive one-on-one mentoring and help with developing a grant proposal, postdoctoral fellowship, dissertation, treatment program, publication or program evaluation project on issues affecting racial and ethnic minority communities.

This year’s PSI will be held July 9–15, 2017.

Cyber Mentors

Funded by a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, Cyber Mentors prepares social scientists for research careers that examine health disparities among populations, matching early career scientists with mentors who are leaders in the field. Mentees receive one-on-one mentoring that includes career development and research application draft assistance.

APA’s Minority Fellowship Program

Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Fellowship

With grant support of $793,978 per year from SAMHSA, APA’s Minority Fellowship Program (MFP) offers the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Fellowship, which provides financial support, mentoring, and professional development for 24 doctoral fellows and one postdoctoral fellow per year. MFP additionally supports nine Training Advisory Committee members focused on doctoral and postdoctoral training.

Services for Transition Age Youth (STAY) Fellowship

With grant support of $532,000 per year from SAMHSA, the MFP also offers the STAY Fellowship, which provides financial support, mentoring and professional development for up to 40 master’s fellows per year.  MFP also supports nine Training Advisory Committee members focused on training master’s-level practitioners to work with youth.


[1] Johnson, W.B. The Intentional Mentor: Strategies and Guidelines for the Practice of Mentoring. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 2002, Vol. 33, No. 1, 88–96.

[2] http://www.apa.org/apags/issues/mentoring-position-statement.aspx

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24 Oct 2016

Being a Mentee — and a Mentor

Being a Mentee — and a Mentor

Many graduate students are both mentees and mentors. Here's how to navigate the two-way street.

By Rebecca Voelker
Print version: page 32

With just a year of graduate school under his belt, Todd Avellar was helping undergraduates get a head start on plotting their own course toward a doctoral degree. He explained the difference between PhD and PsyD degrees, eased doubts about applying to graduate school, and calmed fears about dealing with faculty.

In other words, Avellar was a mentor. He signed up in 2011 for a one-year stint with the McNair Scholars Program at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), which helps undergrads explore pursuing a doctoral degree in any field they choose. Just a few years earlier, Avellar had been a mentee in the McNair program. "I had a wonderful experience," says the fourth-year doctoral student in counseling psychology at UCSB. "Mentoring is near and dear to my heart."

Avellar is just one of many graduate psychology students who find themselves in mentoring roles, says APAGS Associate Executive Director Nabil El-Ghoroury, PhD. Whether it's as a teaching assistant for undergraduate students or showing the ropes to first-year graduate students, many psychology graduate students find the experience rewarding.

Mentors say they gain the satisfaction of knowing they've helped junior students navigate critical experiences — learning the ins and outs of department politics, developing strategies to get an internship, and having a safe place to discuss uncertainties or just to vent. "You feel happy to be able to support them," says Joshua Kellison, a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology at Arizona State University who mentors undergraduate students in his research lab.

Of course, mentoring has its minefields, too, El-Ghoroury notes. Being overly critical can jeopardize relationships but offering generic advice won't help mentees achieve their goals. Here's how to offer support without stepping on toes:

Know your mentee's style

Avellar has more in common with his graduate advisor, Tania Israel, PhD, than their shared interests in counseling psychology. Both are extroverts who appreciate the big-picture issues in mental health. But when his big ideas go beyond the scope of what he realistically can accomplish, Avellar says Israel redirects him to think in concrete terms about research methods and approaches. Conversely, he adds, Israel is adept at encouraging students with a more narrow focus to think in broader terms.

Working with her has taught Avellar a key lesson as he helps guide undergraduate and other graduate students along their academic path. "She really crafts her mentorship toward the individual student," he says. "That's a really important component of mentoring — making sure it works for your mentee."

Expand your notion of what it means to mentor

Mentorship is multifaceted. Kellison has guided undergraduate students in his lab as well as peers at the graduate level. As a teaching assistant, "I've done anything from being a third reader for a master's thesis to helping students craft their letters to apply for grad school," he says.

Kellison kept office hours for undergraduate students and dedicated one lab meeting a month to discuss student concerns, such as the kind of work they could do with a master's degree versus a doctoral degree.

Among his fellow grad students, Kellison has suggested which faculty to consider choosing for their committees and which grants to apply for. "I've applied for every grant I was even remotely qualified for, so they've come to me to ask about that," he says.

Sometimes mentoring can take a non-traditional twist — in the digital age it can be a two-way street, says El-Ghoroury. Faculty who haven't quite jumped on the social media bandwagon might turn the tables and ask a graduate student for advice. "I call it bi-directional mentoring," he notes. "It's an interesting opportunity."

As a mentor in the McNair program, Avellar has helped undergraduate students prepare for the Graduate Record Examinations and craft unique research projects so they can publish the results in the McNair program's research journal. He also helps students with more practical matters, such as writing emails with more substance than the skimpy text messages they're used to writing.

But his guidance isn't strictly academic. Avellar also shows them comfortable places to study and where to find good food that won't break the bank. He helps new graduate students find community venues where they can pursue personal interests — maybe tennis courts or a yoga studio. "It's really important in graduate school to keep that balance," he says.

Keep it in perspective

Matthew FitzGerald, a fifth-year clinical psychology graduate student at Loyola University Maryland, encouraged a fellow graduate student to attend the same site where he had done his clinical practicum. He even suggested a specific supervisor to work with. She took his advice — but didn't have a great experience, he says.

"That really helped shape my sense of mentoring," he says. Mentoring, he now realizes, is about taking perspective, FitzGerald added, so it's important to think about how a piece of advice will affect another person whose perceptions of what's appealing may be completely different than your own.

Listen intently

When an undergraduate student wanted to leave Kellison's lab, it seemed he should retract the student's recommendation letter since it was based on work the student had mapped out — but not completed — for the next semester. But it became a "delicate situation" when Kellison learned through his department chair that the response is considered coercion. "I didn't realize that once it's out there, it's out there," he says. "You can't retract it."

In hindsight, Kellison says he should have listened to the student instead of trying to talk him into staying in the lab. "This was not the work he wanted to do, but I hadn't really heard him."

Own up to your mistakes

FitzGerald often sees first-year graduate students already anxious about the internship match or planning their professional lives for the next 10 years. "That takes away from the richness of the training experience," he says.

To quell that anxiety, FitzGerald advises, "Tell them what you did wrong as well as what you did right." It's often a stress buster for early graduate students to see a fourth- or fifth-year student who has navigated the sometimes choppy waters of academia and lived to tell the tale.

"Sharing your mistakes can help them see their path," he says.


Interested in Mentorship? Read our collection of articles on Mentorship curated specially for APA members and affiliates.

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24 Oct 2016

The Lifelong Benefits of Mentoring

The Lifelong Benefits of Mentoring

Developing these professional relationships can be life-changing. Here's how to find one and why they are so important.

Faced with the many challenges of graduate school, students may find that the important goal of connecting with mentors gets lost in the shuffle of classwork and research. But developing those professional relationships is worth the time.

"Research shows that mentees generally perform better in their programs and after they get out of school" than students without mentors, according to W. Brad Johnson, PhD, a psychology professor at the U.S. Naval Academy and author of several books about mentoring. "Students tend to get tied into the mentor's network of colleagues, and that creates more open doors."

Graduate students with mentors are also likely to be more satisfied with their programs, be more involved in professional organizations, and have a stronger sense of professional identity, Johnson says.

Of course, finding a mentor or mentors isn't always easy. Many graduate programs pair students with an advisor, but advisors typically focus on administrative matters or short-term assignments, not overarching questions about a student's career goals and how to achieve them.

"It is optimal if mentors stand by your side and help you figure out what you want to do with your life," says APA President Nadine J. Kaslow, PhD, an Emory University psychology professor and chief psychologist of Atlanta's Grady Health System. "Getting through grad school and an internship and postdoctoral work is a complex process, and the more support and encouragement we can get along the way, the better off we will be."

About 70 percent of psychology PhD students and 50 percent of PsyD students say they had a mentoring relationship with their advisors, Johnson says about his research. "Very often, mentoring is left to the luck of the draw or chance," he says. "Program leaders assume that graduate students will just gravitate to a faculty member who may become a strong mentor for them, but that isn't always the case."

Learning from peers and professors

It's best for students to find more than one mentor, Johnson advises. "Make a constellation of mentors," he says. "Don't put all of your expectations on one person to meet your needs developmentally. Faculty are incredibly busy and are often overwhelmed with the number of students they are assigned."

Creating that constellation of mentors — faculty members, peer students and outside professionals — takes a multi-pronged approach and a willingness by students to be assertive, says Johnson, who also teaches at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. If an advisor doesn't become a mentor, students can reach out to other faculty members by scheduling meetings, volunteering to work in a research lab, or assisting with grant writing. "Joining faculty in the work they are already doing helps make these relationships collaborative and collegial more quickly," he says.

Todd Avellar, a fifth-year psychology doctoral student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, found a mentor early. While he was still an undergraduate at Santa Barbara, psychology professor Tania Israel, PhD, met with him and discussed his career goals and helped convince him to enroll in graduate school, where she still serves as his mentor. Avellar has traveled to conferences where Israel has introduced him to some of her colleagues. "She really showed me the ropes," he says.

Avellar also has been on the other side of the mentoring relationship by serving as a peer mentor to new graduate students. His program assigns more senior students to help first-year students navigate the unfamiliar waters of graduate school. Peer mentors can offer a behind-the-scenes look at a graduate program and answer questions that students might not feel comfortable asking a faculty member, Avellar says. He often takes new students on campus tours, shows them cheap places to eat, and fills them in on internal politics in his department.

"A peer mentor is just a few steps ahead of you, so they have a good idea of where the potholes and land mines are," he says.

As a former APAGS committee member, Avellar pushed for the association to develop a position statement on the need for high-quality mentorship opportunities at graduate schools. The statement, which was approved by the APAGS committee in July, calls on doctoral training programs to ensure faculty mentoring opportunities for every student.

"Certain areas are traditionally not discussed in the classroom, such as close guidance on networking, navigating the post-graduation working world, acquiring publishing and business-of-practice skills, and other areas necessary for the successful passage of a graduate student to early-career psychologist," the position paper states. "These areas befit the mentoring relationship."

The position statement also encourages the use of programs such as "speed mentoring" events, mentoring groups and paired mentor matches. In speed mentoring, students move among tables and speak briefly with professionals with various expertise to get career advice and potentially develop a more lasting connection. "We need to recognize that mentoring isn't one size fits all," Avellar says. "It really needs to be adapted to each student."

Gina Raciti wasn't sure about her future when she was studying for a master's degree in counseling at Johns Hopkins University. While taking a course taught by Johnson, she started talking with him after class, and he suggested that she pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology. He also helped her focus on research and writing skills to make her a more competitive applicant to doctoral programs.

"I think it was a good confidence boost that he believed I could do it," says Raciti, now a fourth-year doctoral student at George Washington University. "He's the one I've kept in contact with the most, and he's also been an emotional support."

It's really important to have someone supporting you in grad school, Raciti adds. "As grad students, we often doubt ourselves, and there's that imposter syndrome where you feel like you don't belong but you're still here. It helps to have someone who believes in you."

Seeking outside help

Both APAGS and APA offer mentorship opportunities that can extend beyond the university to professionals already working in the field. For example, during her time as a graduate student at the University of Memphis, Ayse Ciftci, PhD, found mentors outside the university through her volunteer work with APA Div. 17 (Society of Counseling Psychology). APA divisions and regional conferences can offer networking opportunities that may lead to mentorships, Ciftci says.

Ciftci now mentors students as an associate professor and training director of the counseling psychology program at Purdue University. She says the benefits of the mentoring relationship go both ways: She is still learning from her mentees, who offer fresh perspectives and curiosity. "It's important to remember it's not a one-way relationship," she says. "Students should have an active role."

APA and APAGS offer some mentorship programs specifically for students who may be underrepresented on campus or have difficulty finding mentors who understand their needs:

  • APA's Office on Disability Issues in Psychology pairs disabled graduate students with mentors with similar disabilities. Both mentors and mentees can apply online at the APA website.
  • APAGS's Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity offers a free yearlong mentoring program (September through August) that matches LGBT students with LGBT professionals. Applications are due by Aug. 15 each year and can be completed online through the APA website.
  • APA Div. 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity and Race) offers a mentorship program for graduate students from ethnic or racial minorities or for students interested in psychology issues relating to those groups. Applications are accepted in June at the Div. 45 conference and in December through an online application. More than 40 students have been matched with long-term mentors through the program.

Dos and don'ts

Whether a mentorship involves a faculty member or a professional, there are some important issues to consider to avoid potential pitfalls. The APA Centering on Mentoring Task Force created a free guide with advice for mentors and mentees, including issues that can create problems, such as sexual relationships, bullying by mentors who expect unpaid work from mentees, or overdependence by mentees on a mentor's advice.

Other advice for mentors and mentees includes:

  • Be sure to establish appropriate boundaries and expectations at the beginning of the relationship. Mentees shouldn't expect mentors to serve as their therapists, says Eddy Ameen, PhD, assistant director of APAGS. The relationship also should evolve as the mentee advances in his or her education. "You're moving more from being a student in their eyes to being more of a colleague," he says.
  • Since faculty members are often very busy, mentees should take the initiative to schedule meetings to seek advice, Johnson says. "Many of these relationships wither on the vine if there isn't good exchange and contact early in the relationship," he says. "You don't want to be annoying and obnoxious, but you certainly want to bring yourself to that faculty member's attention."
  • Mentors should provide honest feedback without being overly critical, and they shouldn't steer a mentee's career decisions, Kaslow says. "You want to guide people," she says. "You want to give them information and let them make their own choices. You want to encourage them to capitalize on their strengths."
  • Mentees also should be able to reject a mentor's advice without facing retaliation if the advice doesn't mesh with the mentee's own career goals, Johnson says. "Many faculty unconsciously try to shape their mentees in their own image," he says. "For example, they may try to push them into their area of research."
  • The imbalance in power between the mentor and mentee also can lead to problems, such as questions about authorship of studies that involve work by the mentee, Ciftci says.

If a mentoring relationship becomes unhelpful or toxic, then mentees need to consider terminating the relationship or consulting with other students or faculty members, Johnson says.

While problems can occur, most mentoring relationships offer many benefits for both mentors and mentees. "I really love mentoring," Kaslow says. "It's a wonderful way to give back to the community and help new people grow and learn and advance our profession. I also learn so much from my mentees."

Mentorships may continue long after students graduate and advance in their careers, Ciftci says. "A lot of learning happens outside of the classroom, and mentoring is a critical part of it," she says. "I believe mentoring is probably the key factor for success in graduate school."

By Brendan L. Smith


Interested in Mentorship? Read our collection of articles on Mentorship curated specially for APA members and affiliates.

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24 Oct 2016

Mentorships for Life

Mentorships for Life

Your mentor-mentee relationship is an important predictor of your future success. Learn how to keep those relationships strong.

By Dr. Alice G. Walton
Print version: page 26

Finding the right mentor in graduate school is one of the most important — and often trickiest — parts of your grad school experience. There are lots of ways to define "mentor," but typically he or she is more than an academic advisor. Mentors offer moral support, serve as sounding boards and help you prepare for life after grad school, both professionally and personally.

The mentor-mentee relationship shouldn't be thought of as optional, says Laura Gail Lunsford, PhD, a psychology professor who studies mentoring at the University of Arizona. A poor match — or not having a mentor at all — not only can lead to an unpleasant grad school experience, it can also undermine your career prospects, she says. "Our research has found that after financial support, having a good relationship with one's mentor was the best predictor of future success, [such as] the number of publications and presentations down the road."

And, after financial support, the mentor-mentee relationship is also the best predictor of whether you graduate from a doctoral program at all, according to the Council for Graduate Studies.

What does it take to find a good mentor and cultivate that relationship? We asked mentoring researchers, faculty and grad students for their insights.

Start early

Mentors and mentees should pair up late in undergrad or early in grad school, says Lunsford. Developing relationships as an undergraduate can help lay the groundwork for graduate school and set you up for future success, according to her study, published in Mentoring & Tutoring: Partnership in Learning. Specifically, early mentoring led to more satisfied grad students who made more presentations and faster progress.

"When you develop these connections as an undergraduate, you'll already have a community that's excited to greet you when you show up at the graduate level," says York University psychology grad student Jeremy Trevelyan Burman.

That said, don't panic if you don't have a mentor by the end of your first year of graduate school. "Start talking to successful third- and fourth-year graduate students and find out who their mentors are," says Lunsford. "Ask to be introduced to them and you will ultimately find a good match."

Grab the reins

Don't hang back and wait to be chosen by a faculty member, says W. Brad Johnson, PhD, a psychology professor who studies mentoring at the U.S. Naval Academy. "Drop by for discussions and stay after class to chat," he suggests.

Research shows that we tend to like people we see often, so hang around the department, take potential advisors' colloquia and visit them during their office hours, Johnson adds. Becoming knowledgeable about potential mentors' work and showing them that you're interested is the best way to recruit a mentor, he says.

Collect 'em all

It's tempting to envision that perfect mentor who will mold you into a great researcher, professor or clinician. But this is a romanticized notion, says Johnson. In reality, mentors come in many forms, and each can provide a different type of support. Some may assist you better in the professional realm, helping you gain grants, apply for jobs and accomplish other career-related tasks. Other mentors can serve more "psychosocial functions," such as helping you balance your professional and personal lives and offering moral support.

Both types are important, and when it comes to picking mentors, his research has found the more you have, the better. "Patch together a network of people to gain experience from," Johnson says. "The happiest, most successful people have a constellation of mentors." This group can include more advanced grad students, faculty members from other departments or even family members, he says.

Don't force the relationship

You may want your academic advisor to be your mentor also, but things don't always work out that way — and that's OK. "Your research advisor can just be your research advisor," says Jeffrey E. Barnett, PsyD, a researcher who studies the mentor-mentee relationship at Loyola University Maryland. This is where the constellation of mentors comes in: If your advisor is brilliant at pointing out methodological flaws in your work but can't offer you career advice or moral support, find another person in your department or even outside it who can. This way, you can still reap the benefits that your advisor offers without missing out on the guidance a mentor can provide.

Be an eager beaver

Once you've found your grad school mentors, dive into the experience to get everything out of it you can. "When I offer advice, I want students to rise to the occasion," Johnson says. So show your mentors how you put their coaching into practice. If they suggest you use an alternative technique in the lab, tell them how it worked out. Or if your mentors shared a clinical skill, let them know how it worked with your own clients. Taking your mentor's advice and sharing your successes communicate that you really want to be there and are benefiting from the relationship, Johnson says. Mentors want to know that they're helping you, and they'll feel good that you're getting what you came to grad school for.

Learn to accept criticism

Students who are reluctant to take advice or constructive criticism tend not to do as well as students who are more receptive to their mentors' advice. After all, your mentors aren't just there to cheer you on. They are trying to help you prepare for a career and, therefore, must be honest about your weaknesses. "Accept praise and criticism with openness and nondefensiveness," says Johnson. "Mentees who can tolerate and learn from correction are more likely to be mentored." If you find yourself deeply hurt or offended by your mentor's markup of your dissertation proposal, take a step back and remind yourself of the goal. Critiques are meant to evaluate and improve your work — not you as a person, Johnson says.

Scratch your mentor's back

Figuratively, that is. Mentors work hard on your behalf, says Johnson, and it's important to give something back to the relationship. "When possible, offer your mentor assistance with projects that might simultaneously afford you experience and supervision," he says. Offer to set up that new piece of lab equipment, or draft a section of a grant proposal. This way, you'll gain some good experience while also lightening your mentor's workload.

Say thanks

Make sure your mentors know that you value the relationship and the direction they are providing. "This doesn't mean you have to give your mentor a Starbucks gift card or bring breakfast every morning," says Barnett, "but make sure you're gracious and respectful of your mentor's time and efforts." Show up to appointments on time, be honest about your progress and challenges, and make sure to thank your mentors for their help and guidance every now and again.

Know it's worth the effort

Learning how to develop and nurture mentor-mentee relationships isn't easy, but it will pay off long after you've earned your degree, says Leigh Ann Carter, a clinical psychology doctoral student at Loyola. "My relationship with my mentor is something that will continue beyond graduate school," she says. "Mentoring will serve as a bridge linking my graduate training to the early stages of my professional career and beyond." Whether you continue to a career in academe, private practice, government or private industry, you'll need to tap the advice of people who have gone before you. So get out there and begin laying the groundwork for mentorships that will last a lifetime.


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