Early Career Psychologist column

This article discusses mentoring and represents the fourth installment in the series targeting issues faced by early career psychologists

By Sarah Tragesser and Kelly Dunn, PhD

This article represents the fourth installment in the series targeting issues faced by early career psychologists (ECPs). In this article, we will focus on mentoring.

As graduate students, we are accustomed to having a primary graduate school mentor who often provides us with important training on scientific and/or clinical issues. As we now transition into ECPs and begin to forge our own unique career path, it is important that we continue seeking advice from mentors. As an ECP, it is critical to identify both content and career mentors. A content mentor should be knowledgeable of, and able to critique, your scientific and/or clinical pursuits. A career mentor should be someone who is not directly involved with your research, and can therefore serve as an objective observer of your career trajectory and provide impartial advice regarding career choices. It is important that we as ECPs are active contributors to our mentoring experience; by informing our mentors of our needs and actively directing our mentoring meetings, we will maximize our mentoring experience and reduce the burden imposed upon the mentor. On the next two pages we have summarized several important aspects of mentoring into easy-to-read lists that can be used by you to cultivate and direct your mentoring experience. Also remember that as ECPs, we will all likely become mentors at some point, so use your time now to identify the characteristics that you believe are embodied by good mentors and begin developing your own identity as a mentor.

What is Mentorship?3
  • Usually an informal relationship, self-selected by the individuals involved, where mentor is more senior than mentee

  • “Primary” mentorship relationships often last for several years, and involve a significant bond between mentor and mentee

  • Serves functions of providing advice, knowledge, guidance, role modeling, counseling, support and friendship

  • Mentorship has functions in two domains:

    • Career functions: career development and advancement, guiding professional identity, networking, coaching, provisioning of knowledge and skills (including ethics), protection and challenge

    • Psychosocial functions: enhancing mentee self-efficacy, role modeling, acceptance, support and friendship

Factors related to successful mentor relationships
  • Frequent contact (regular meetings)1,5

  • Setting and discussing specific goals and objectives5

  • Mutual liking, attractiveness and identification between mentor and mentee4 

  • Mentee input into the matching process5 

  • Relationship meets the needs of both the mentee and the mentor4


1. Allen, T. D., Eby, L. T., & Lentz, E. (2006). Mentorship behaviors and mentorship quality associated with formal mentoring programs: Closing the gap between research and practice. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(3), 567-578.

2. Green, A. G., & Hawley, G. C. (2009). Early career psychologists: Understanding, engaging, and mentoring tomorrow’s leaders. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 40(2), 206-212.

3. Johnson, B. W. (2002). The intentional mentor: Strategies and guidelines for the practice of mentoring. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 33, 88-96.

4. Kram, K. E. (1985). Mentoring at work: Developmental relationships in organizational life. Glenview, IL: Scott Foresman.

5. Viator, R. E. (1999). An analysis of formal mentoring programs and perceived barriers to obtaining a mentor at large public accounting firms. Accounting Horizons, 13, 37-53.