Mentoring: Paying it Forward

Div. 54 President Michael Rapoff shares the top five benefits of mentoring and tips for mentors.

By Michael A. Rapoff, PhD

According to Wikipedia, paying it forward is “asking the beneficiary of a good deed to repay it to others instead of the original benefactor.” The term may have been coined by Lily Hardy Hammond from her 1916 book, In the Garden of Delight. I remember fondly the movie Pay it Forward starring Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osmont, with the plot being an assignment given by a seventh-grade social studies teacher (Spacey) for his students to make a plan to change the world for the better. One of the students (Osmont) came up with the idea of paying it forward, which meant the recipient of a favor does a favor for three other people rather than paying back the person who originally did the favor. The payback needed to be a major one, meaning the receiver could not complete it by him- or herself. The movie ended on a sad note but inspired people to actually implement a pay-it-forward strategy in their everyday life. That is what mentoring is to me. Those of us who are now senior statespersons owe our profession payback for what others gave to us to further our careers.

Fortunately, one of our past presidents, Mary Jo Kupst, had the wisdom to initiate our Div. 54 Mentoring Program in 2004. Since then, over 400 Div. 54 members have contributed to this program with the numbers continuing to grow. Mentoring is now regarded as a membership benefit. Coordination of the mentoring program has been in Sharon Berry's capable hands since its inception. Sharon is working with me to find ways to further enhance the program and make it more visible to our members online. You can access information about our mentoring program on our mentorship page.

Following are a few ways that I think mentoring benefits mentors and some tips for being a good mentor (it seems more obvious how mentoring benefits mentees in terms of professional guidance about promotion and tenure, publications, grant writing, etc.).

  1. Mentoring requires that you keep current on professional literature. It helps you to be a lifelong learner and to remain passionate about research, teaching and clinical service.

  2. You have the pleasure of seeing your graduate students and junior colleagues excel in their work and feel that maybe you had an important role in their success. You will hopefully achieve what C.S. Lewis said constitutes being a good university professor, “If we are any good, we must always be working towards the moment at which our pupils are fit to become our critics and rivals” ( The Four Loves , NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1960, p. 77).

  3. You further the development of the field by nurturing the next generation of pediatric psychologists.

  4. You allow your mentee to be what they want to be. I remember trying to hire a former graduate student of mine on the tenure track, as he had excelled as a graduate student in his research and professional writing. After a long talk over breakfast where I extolled the virtues of balancing teaching, research and clinical service in an academic pediatric medical setting (my career path), he said to me “I don't want to be you, Mike.” I was trying to talk him into a professional path that was just not for him. I learned a valuable lesson from that former student. We need to let them choose their own path and help them succeed, even if we think another path might be preferable from our standpoint.

  5.  My good friend, mentor and colleague Dr. John Belmont says that if people speak well of you after you die, then you are in heaven. If you are a good mentor, there will be former students and colleagues who will speak well of you. And, who doesn't want to go to heaven?

Best wishes to everyone and please contact me if you have suggestions or comments about what we are doing to serve you, our members.

Michael A. Rapoff, PhD (credit: John Belmont)Michael A. Rapoff, PhD, is the Ralph L. Smith Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Kansas Medical Center, where he teaches, does research, advises graduate students, sees patients and mentors junior colleagues.