Academic Mentorship: Your Secret Weapon in Achieving Career Success
University of Florida
Imagine having access to wisdom that could facilitate your academic success, while simultaneously aiding your professional development. Such experiences are more readily accessible than you might think. Seeking out mentorship relationships can be invaluable to your education and career. Mentors can provide a broad and unbiased perspective in a way that most undergraduates would not have access to from other sources (e.g., family, friends). Fortunately, undergraduates are surrounded by potential mentors in the form of graduate students and faculty members. These individuals can draw from academic, professional, and life experiences to assist you with your academic and professional progression.
A mentor is someone who has garnered experience in your desired path and can help lead you in the right direction. Mentorship relationships 1) are focused on the growth and accomplishment of an individual, 2) include forms of support (e.g., assistance with career development), and 3) are personal and reciprocal relationships (Crisp & Cruz, 2009). Recent research has demonstrated that mentorship is associated with increased academic performance, professional development, positive self-image, psychological well-being, and emotional adjustment (Crisp & Cruz, 2009; Eby, Allen, Evans, Ng, and DuBois, 2007). These findings suggest that mentors provide a supportive relationship focused on your professional and academic growth and accomplishments, and that this relationship can foster many positive academic, career, and psychological outcomes. Clearly, investing time and energy in finding a mentor that is committed to your academic and professional advancement is a worthwhile pursuit.
I hope that you are at least humoring the idea that you are indeed a creative person and that the following tips will encourage you to take more initiative in pursuing your original ideas. Challenge yourself continually to consider unconventional paths and novel approaches in your work as student psychologists!
In a selecting an appropriate mentor, achieving proper fit is key. Find someone who is well-suited to provide the specific types of advice you are looking for. For example, if your questions are primarily regarding applying to graduate school, a graduate student may be the most appropriate fit. Seek out mentors whose research interests you, or whose career path may be a path you intend for yourself. Faculty members are the most obvious choice for mentorship, whether your mentor is a professor you work with in a research lab, a professor you have had for class, or someone in the department that conducts research in your area of interest. Beginning a mentoring relationship with a faculty member often starts by demonstrating that you are actively engaged in their interests. This may take the form of participating in class frequently, going to office hours to discuss topics of interest, or simply asking a professor if they are available to discuss career topics with you.
Although students often only think of professors as mentors, graduate students have attained a great deal of knowledge and experience in your prospective career. Additionally, graduate students are likely more familiar with the current graduate application process and the day-to-day life of graduate school, mainly because they have jumped these hurdles more recently than professors have. Finally, in many cases, graduate students may have more flexibility in their schedules to offer you mentorship, as compared with faculty members. For these reasons, graduate students serve as excellent mentors.
Finding a faculty member or graduate student who is willing to invest in your professional development can be difficult, but there are several ways to seek out a motivated mentor. First, research assistantships (RAs) in a faculty member’s laboratory will provide you with invaluable experience for graduate school and give you direct and regular access to several potential mentors. RAs typically work directly with graduate students and professors, and most labs provide RAs with career instruction. Therefore, do not hesitate to ask graduate students and professors career-related questions (be sure to do this before or after lab time). Many professors and graduate students will be impressed with your ambition and motivation, and will be eager to play a role in facilitating your career development.
There are several ways you can garner career advice from your lab. Informal conversations with graduate students can provide a unique “inside scoop” regarding their personal opinions about career topics. However, be sure to be respectful of their time and to not interrupt their work; instead ask your potential mentor when it might be convenient to have such a conversation. Secondly, it is appropriate for undergraduate RAs to request more formal mentorship activities from the lab, such as a lab meeting dedicated solely to discussing graduate school advice. Since your potential mentors have busy schedules, it may facilitate such an event if you offer to coordinate the activity.
RA positions can be highly competitive, so if you are unable to obtain a position in a research laboratory, there are other opportunities for mentorship. Your university’s psychology department website probably includes a list of current graduate students (including email addresses) which is a great resource of potential mentors. Find students who match your interests and email them. Although not all of them may have time to serve as a mentor, do not be discouraged. Some universities have more formal mentorship programs, so check with the psychology department undergraduate advising office. Finally, the APSSC mentorship program is an excellent outlet that matches psychology undergraduates with graduate student mentors based on interests. More information about this program can be found at:
In sum, mentors can provide you with advice regarding research ideas, graduate school advice, professional guidance, and much more. Engaging in a mentorship relationship can lead to a host of positive outcomes such as academic success, career development, and psychological well-being. Mentors, both graduate students and faculty members, can be found in research labs, psychology departments, and even the APSSC mentor program. Lastly, although finding a mentor can lead to future success and career development, it is especially important to find a mentor that has similar research and professional goals.
Crisp, G., & Cruz, I. (2009). Mentoring College Students: A Critical Review of the Literature
Between 1990 and 2007. Research in Higher Education, 50(6), 525–545.
Eby, L. T., Allen, T. D., Evans, S. C., Ng, T., & DuBois, D. L. (2008). Does mentoring matter?
A multidisciplinary meta-analysis comparing mentored and non-mentored individuals.
Journal of Vocational Behavior, 72(2), 254–267.
Richard Douglass is pursuing his doctorate in counseling psychology at the University of Florida. His research interests are focused around how people develop and live out a career calling and how this leads to positive career outcomes. Outside of school you can find Rich running, cycling, or enjoying the outdoors in general.