Student Column

How to Maximize Your Education: Find a Mentor

Tips on finding and choosing a mentor

By Diomaris E. Jurecska
Editor’s Note: Please join me in welcoming our new student representative Diomaris Jurecska.

Often, the decision to attend graduate school is influenced by the desire to work with a professor in a specific area on common research interests. Thus, most students identify their mentor as a person working primarily in these areas. However, as complex beings our needs transcend academia to include personal as well as professional development. Therefore, expecting one person to fill all your academic, professional and personal needs might be unrealistic. An alternative approach to mentorship that might help you maximize your education is to identify different mentors for specific areas of your development. Contextual mentorship is a model implemented in the education arena where teacher-interns receive advice from different cooperating advisors with different mentoring styles (Ralph Edwin, 2003).

Does mentoring matter?

Studies show that students who rate their relationships with their mentors as positive are significantly more productive and more satisfied with their programs and have greater job satisfaction after leaving school (Roche, 1979; Riley & Wrench, 1985; Mentoring Solutions, 2005).

Use a needs-assessment approach when choosing your mentors

Evaluate your goals. Keep in mind your natural talents and consider choosing at least one mentor who can strengthen needed areas of growth. At the same time, evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of faculty members; talking to their students and/or enrolling or sitting in on their classes are excellent ways to identify and obtain this information.

Consider how much access you need from a mentor. For instance, if face time is really important to you, have that be the “primary” factor in your decision. Occasionally, students will identify one mentor for professional development and someone else to help build research skills. Don’t’ forget, for some situations you might be able to connect with a mentor outside of your program and work on other areas electronically.

Take into account your potential mentor’s professional and personal circumstances. It is not uncommon that third factors such as illness, family situations, sabbatical, tenure, etc… might impair access and quality of interactions between you and your mentors. So be sensitive to the broader scheme of things in your search for the right mentor.

Take charge of your graduate experience

  • Be active in your interactions with mentors; let your needs be known to them.
  • Be open to feedback and change; establish a place to receive and provide feedback
  • Be open to growth and explore unknown professional areas. Make an effort to integrate feedback into your work together.
  • Be organized and establish goals that are feasible and realistic. Get to know their expectations and policies when working with graduate students. Show commitment to your work, break down major goals into parts, and be sure to allow for “check in” times.
  • Be flexible about ways to achieve goals; engage in the process while maintaining firm conviction to achieve your professional goals.
  • Stay in touch. Make regular appointments with your mentors and update them on your progress. Make sure they know you both professionally and personally.