Tag Archives: Mentors


Finding a Mentor @ APA

vision-communityWhat is a mentor?
I’ve had several mentors in my grad school career, but I don’t always realize it. The number is often higher than what I typically think, because, like many of us, I tend to think of mentorship as a formal relationship with someone who is more senior in terms of age or authority. The first that comes to mind is an academic advisor, a dissertation chair, or a clinical supervisor. It’s important to remember that some mentoring relationships are between folks who are fairly equal in age, position, or other status; the mentorship can also be rather informal (e.g., meeting a colleague or peer for coffee). As APA’s guide for mentors and mentees sums it up, a mentee is simply someone who learns from another.

Why should I look for a mentor?
I turn to different mentors for different things: how to manage work-life balance, thinking about academia and family, how to respond to a particularly snarky reviewer letter, how to return low grades and difficult feedback to my students. Some mentors give me concrete advice and assist me in developing skills, others model how to cope with stress and validate my work boundaries of saying “no” to extra tasks. Speaking as a woman, finding lady-mentors in the field has been extremely helpful: most of us tend to feel more motivated and identify more with mentors who share similar qualities and identities as us. More than this, the research shows that mentoring works. Those with mentors tend to do better and feel better on the job compared to people without mentors (Clark, Harden, & Johnson, 2000; Elman, Illfelder-Kaye, & Robiner, 2005).

This raises the (valid) issue: what if you don’t have a reliable mentor in a particular space or job? Navigating jobs and academics as a graduate student is made more difficult without guides. That is why being intentional about networking with potential mentors at APA can be so important.

Being Intentional: Looking for Mentors @ APA
If you are like me, you are rather introverted. The term ‘networking’ makes you want to crawl into your snuggie and watch five episodes in a row on Netflix (see my post in the coming weeks on networking!). Mentally prepare yourself:
Reflect. What support do you most need at this stage in your training? What type of mentor (formal, informal; clinical, academic) would be most beneficial, and what do you need from them?
• Don’t forget to think horizontally! Remember that mentors can be other students. Making connections for academic, social, or emotional support and feedback with a student outside of your home program can lend you new perspectives on things.
Set a plan. Look through the Convention programming to see where you could best network to begin a mentoring relationship. This includes APAGS programming (check out the Food for Thought programs!).
Remember your manners. A lot of people like to mentor in a variety of ways, but the bottom line is they are still providing you with their time. It’s up to you to initiate contact and to be up front about your goals. APA has made a handy chart (which also shows the do’s and dont’s for mentors, if you want to see how the other half should operate!) for you to consult.
Don’t take it personally. Some people are just so awesome we all want them to be our mentors (I’m looking at you, Dr. Brené Brown). To be that awesome takes a lot of time, and so sometimes a potential mentor may say they cannot develop a mentoring relationship with you.
This post mostly focused on a brief overview of what and how to look for in a mentor at APA. Here are some great, graduate student-oriented resources on mentoring relationships:

Getting Mentored in Graduate School, by W. Brad Johnson and Jennifer M. Huwe. This is a book written by a mentor-mentee duo and they use their own experiences to write the chapters.
Sticky Situations in Mentoring, a blog post by gradPSYCH staff Jamie Chamberlin. The post takes readers through how to identify problems in a mentoring relationship and how to switch mentors if necessary.
Building Mentorships for Success, a blog post by Melissa Dittman, gradPSYCH staff.

I hope to see you in August in networking mode!


  1. American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Mentoring (2006). Introduction to mentoring: A guide for mentors and mentees. http://www.apa.org/education/grad/mentoring.aspx
  2. Clark, R.A., Harden, S.L., & Johnson, W.B. (2000). Mentoring relationships in clinical psychology doctoral training: Results of a national survey. Teaching of Psychology, 27, 262-268.
  3. Elman, N.S., Illfelder-Kaye, J., & Robiner, W.N. (2005). Professional development: Training for professionalism as a foundation for competent practice in psychology. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 36, 367-375.

Editor’s Note: Stephanie Winkeljohn Black is a student at the University of Louisville and a member of the APAGS Convention Committee.

Which advisor is right for you? (Source: "Professor Fink" by Profound Whatever on Flickr. Some rights reserved.)

Selecting your graduate advisor and lab: Details matter

Which advisor is right for you? (Source: "Professor Fink" by Profound Whatever on Flickr. Some rights reserved.)

Which advisor is right for you? (Source: “Professor Fink” by Profound Whatever on Flickr. Some rights reserved.)

A previous blog post by Drs. Ameen and El-Ghoroury made some excellent points about the graduate school decision. In this post I will share a few in-depth strategies about selecting an advisor for a research-oriented doctoral program.

I was extremely lucky to find an advisor like Dr. Jennifer Vonk, but you probably want to minimize the influence of luck on your experience. After listening to many cases of relinquished doctoral students, I realized that in many ways, applying to work with your advisor is a gamble. Here is a person who is primarily responsible for your career, yet you know very little about them.

The points I mention here are based on my experiences and conversations with undergraduate students over the years.

First, the structure of admissions to a research-intensive graduate program is quite different from a typical undergraduate admissions process. Your standardized test scores and academic accomplishments are important, but what ultimately matters is what you are able to bring to the lab and to the program. Therefore, during your program research, it can be useful to consider where you would fit in the best based on your best qualities.

Second, shortlisting potential programs from a broad database like Graduate Study in Psychology is just the beginning. Be prepared to start focusing on the seemingly minute details – current and past research produced by your advisor’s lab, for example – which will make a huge impact on your experience. These details can be found by combing through the CVs and recent publications of prospective advisors.  As you to do your homework, check on these particular variables:

  1. How frequently they publish: If you are not fully aware of this factor, you may end up being surprised or disappointed after you join the lab. The publication frequency (along with the quality) usually indicates their general research activity level, and might provide hints in terms of what they expect from their students.
  2. The quality of journals they usually publish in: Generally speaking, journals with higher impact-factors publish better research (details are a bit too complex for this post). APA has its own journal database where you can read more on each of their journals (and their impact factors). You can also gauge the impact of non-APA journals through some basic online research.
  3. How often they include graduate students as co-authors: This is an important factor because to be a successful researcher you need to have something to show for your work. Advisors usually have their own criteria for authorship such as who came up with the most important idea, or who worked the most of the project, and so forth. In case you are not sure how authorship is decided, or how frequently their graduate students are publishing, these may be important questions to bring up during your interview.
  4. The research interests of other students in the lab: Your lab-mates might be the ones you spend most of your time around. They can be quite influential in your work in terms of your class discussions, research collaborations and your lab’s focus. Reading about previous students in the lab, you can gauge what types of topics the lab usually handles and how flexible the research focus might be.
  5. The thematic aspect of multiple research papers: If you really want to know what your advisor likes, dislikes, finds interesting, or is strongly opinionated about, you need to go through their research publications in detail. If you go through several of their papers, you can find out which theories they like or dislike, what arguments they find compelling or weak, and what are their general views on their subject of interest. While research papers won’t tell you everything you need to know about an advisor’s interpersonal qualities, doing this review might stave off a complete falling-out between student and advisor.

These are some (of the many) points that prospective applicants to research-oriented doctoral programs in psychology are often unaware of, but can have a huge impact on their academic careers. Taking these into consideration may significantly lower your likelihood of facing unwanted surprises or disappointments in your new program and lab.


Chinmay Aradhye

Editor’s note: Chinmay Aradhye is a third-year student in the Experimental Psychology PhD. program, Department of Psychology, Oakland University. He is also the APAGS Michigan State Advocacy Coordinator.  Contact him at caradhye@oakland.edu.


Mentorship networks: What they are, what they are good for, and how they are built.

Mentorship is a term that psychologists of all stripes often use when having conversations about their professional development. It refers to a special formative relationship between a mentee (i.e., a person who is in the process of learning) and a mentor (i.e., a person qualified to teach). In such conversations, it is not infrequent to hear psychologists (and psychologists in training) refer to their mentor or –more importantly for the purposes of this blog- their mentors.

In this blog entry I would like to present you with an idea, self-evident to some but unknown to others, that a psychologist’s professional development is best served when mentoring occurs in the context of a mentee having a network of mentors rather than a singular person who serves in that capacity.

Why have mentors?

1. Beyond justification implicit in popular folk sayings (i.e., “two heads are better than one”), there are several reasons to ensure that your professional development is guided by more than one qualified person. Perhaps foremost among these is the simple fact that –barring conditions of divinity that are at the moment outside of the realm of empirical confirmation- no one person can know everything there is to know about every domain of your professional development. Having a network of mentors raises the possibility that the guidance you will receive in any one professional decision or domain is being provided by the most qualified person you know in that area.

  • For example, in my own career this has meant relying on relatively recent job applicants to provide me with practical guidance when looking for a job and on more experienced faculty members when looking to avoid common mistakes that job applicants make. Having access to both groups of mentors allows for a more complete picture of the job search process, and ultimately a better and more successful search. The same principle applies to most domains of professional development in both research and practice.

2. Another reason to make sure and develop multiple mentorship relationships is that –like most other relationships among human beings- each of these will wax and wane repeatedly over time, and sometimes because of factors outside of your control. Having multiple mentors raises the possibility of accessing someone who is ideally motivated to support you exactly at the time you need it.

  • The most poignant example from my own career came when a mentor that I most often rely on for advice on publishing and writing was faced with an unfortunate series of severe health and family problems. Demanding that mentor’s time and resources under those conditions would have been selfish and indelicate. Having other mentors to rely on in that area allowed me to receive the guidance I needed in order to continue meeting demands of my chosen career as an academic. It also freed my time so that my conversations with the burdened mentor were spent honoring and supporting her through difficult times.

3. Having multiple mentors can also allow you greater freedom and independence. I run into colleagues, both practitioners and scholars, whose reliance on one or only a few mentors has limited –rather than enhanced- their professional choices (e.g., “I wish I could apply for that job, but I don’t know anyone in that system” or “I can’t publish this, it goes directly against what X has been saying for years.”). I’ve had only a few experiences where I have felt as they do. It is -to say the least- unpleasant to feel that after all the work you’ve put into experiencing success in your field, your growth is now inordinately affected by the whims of a person who you have little influence upon.

  • Whenever I’ve discovered that my professional development environments make success contingent on unfailing alliance to one particular person or set of ideas, I have immediately begun looking elsewhere (a decision most always supported by the mentors in my network).

4. This brings me to a final benefit of mentorship networks, support. Given your condition as a human being developing a career, it is possible –if not likely- that despite the availability of an ample number of fantastic mentors you will make one or more mistakes regarding your professional development. At those times, it is wonderful to have available to you a number of qualified people who are not within your immediate professional context that can help you navigate back to a sound professional course.

  • In the midst of my worst professional decisions, it has been my mentors who have helped me plot the course out of those decisions, and whose support has led me to believe a successful resolution is possible.

I’m sold, how do I build a mentorship network?
Before discussing specific tactics, I’d like to present you with a thought regarding the attitudinal predisposition that might facilitate your success in this endeavor: “It is difficult, if not impossible, to be mentored without being humble.” Mentorship relations are premised on the fact that a person has something to provide you that you do not have. Valued mentors are often willing to give you that something (e.g., knowledge, a skill, experience, a professional contact, etc.) in exchange for nothing other than the satisfaction of seeing you avoid a pitfall they encountered or watching you develop. Demanding and entitled attitudes on the part of mentees (often soon to be “former mentees”) certainly seem to be antithetical to fostering a mentor’s willingness to continue to assist you. Humility, appreciativeness, and graciousness seem to best honor the benefits received from your mentors.

As for where to begin, I would suggest the best place to begin building mentorship relationships is in your natural environment. Among graduate students perhaps the most natural mentors in this environment are faculty and other advanced students. For lack of humility, I’ve seen younger students ignore incredibly helpful information provided to them by more advanced students. For lack of appreciation, I’ve seen advanced students and faculty stop sharing helpful information with “could have been mentees.” The medieval philosopher Dominic of Guzman is said to have written “appreciate all the wisdom you encounter, regardless of its source.” That is perhaps the attitude most productive to developing mentors. I’ve received incredible advice from people who I’ve not expected it from, often ones who I am not particularly personally drawn to. Making sure to note the appreciation I have for that wisdom (e.g., through written or verbal comments) has ensured more wisdom in the future.

A second natural place to seek mentoring is through programs and structures developed specifically for it. Many educational institutions, programs, and professional societies have formal mentoring or professional development programs. If you find one that works for you, you’ve found a rare commodity that you should not undervalue. (This blog I hope is one example).

Professional societies provide one final place to identify potential mentors and build mentorship relationships. The more you interact with people who share your interests, the more you are likely to find some among them who are willing to guide you. When you find these people, honor and appreciate them. I’ve met some of my most valued mentors and mentees (some of whom in turn have mentored me in specific domains) sitting in the audience of a professional presentation or over lunch at a workshop.

Some final observations
Here are some things I’ve learned in the road to developing and maintaining my own mentorship networks.

1. I repeat, and will repeat it again and again, humility and appreciation go a long way. If a person is helpful to you, let them know it. A doctoral student recently came into my office frustrated that I had stopped giving her direction as I did before. Her frustration was surprise to me as I had scaled down my advice based on the lack of feedback from her about it. It is my job to teach all students at my institution. It is my pleasure and privilege to be able to mentor some. I am more likely to mentor students from whom I get a sense my mentorship is valued.

2. Initiative can work miracles. I once wondered out loud why a friend of mine got advice from one of our mentors that I –despite having more contact with this mentor- did not get. Her answer: I ask. Lesson learned, I now ask. I don’t always get an answer (or the answer I want), but –unsurprisingly- the net amount of times I do get an answer has increased exponentially.

3. Not everyone can be a mentor to everyone else. There are several professionals that I respect and admire who I’ve hoped to develop mentorship relationships with, but these have never materialized. While the reasons for this may be varied (e.g., lack of time, lack of personal compatibility. etc.), one thing I’ve learned is not to take it personally. Sometimes the inability to form a mentorship relationship has stemmed from an identifiable reason that helps me grow, others it has not. In either case, it is good self-care practice to learn as much as you can from that event and then proceed to move on with your life and professional development.

  • In my own life, I often refer students and more junior colleagues who seek advice or consultation from me to someone else. It is not because I do not like or value these people. Much to the contrary, it is because I value them that I refer them to someone who can serve them better than I can at the time.

4. The way you make mentors will likely match your personality. I have a colleague (that is at times a mentor to me) who has the enviable ability to walk up to seemingly anyone and enlist their help. Although I am sure that the process is at times effortful for her, observed from the outside it seems graceful and uncomplicated. As much as I’ve tried to develop that skill and will continue to work at it, it is still something that does not come naturally to me. However, for reasons I don’t fully understand I seem to do well at being an effective contributor to committees, workforces, and other such groups. It is in the context of these that I have forged many of my mentoring relationships. I have other colleagues who develop mentoring networks through social engagements at conferences such as informal lunches, tours, etc.

  • While it is likely wise for all professionals to take advantages of as many opportunities to develop mentoring relationships as they are afforded, my point is that not everyone will excel at the same types of opportunities. Find your strength and exploit it.

Best of luck building your mentorship network, managing it is a whole different issue (and perhaps the subject of a future blog entry).

Editor’s note: This post was written by I. David Acevedo-Polakovich, PhD; Assistant Professor; Central Michigan University. It originally appeared on the Multicultural Mentoring blog by the Society of Clinical Psychology’s Section on the Clinical Psychology of Ethnic Minorities. (APA Division 12, Section 6). It is reposted here with generous permission. Over time, you will see all eight original posts on gradPSYCH Blog.



5 Lessons from Harry Potter to Deal with an Advisor who is Like Voldemort

Mattu, 2012

Mattu, 2011

So what do you do if your advisor is as evil as Voldemort?

Graduate school is full of enough challenges and hoops to deal with a toxic advisor. But just as Harry Potter was able to overcome Voldemort, you can graduate with your degree, if you think about the allies that Harry developed over the course of the series. These allies all taught him something important, and you can too by discovering people who are like them in your life.

1)     Get Hermione on your side – You need a smart peer on your side who can give you feedback on drafts of your proposal, or challenge you with tough questions before your defense. You want someone who can give you truly constructive criticism, without being mean about it.

2)     Find Ron – Everyone needs a best friend, with whom you can commiserate after a tough test or a difficult meeting with your advisor. Social support is so important on the journey to earning your degree! Find someone whom you trust.

El-Ghoroury, 2012

El-Ghoroury, 2012

3)     Seek Dumbledore – As the headmaster of Hogwarts, Dumbledore often went out of his way to protect Harry (even if Harry didn’t know it). It helps to have an ally among the faculty in your department, particularly someone with some power, such as the department chair or the director of training. An ally who is well connected can be a buffer for you in your interactions with your advisor, particularly on committees.

4)     Discover Remus Lupin – While Remus Lupin was Harry’s teacher for one year, the most important thing he taught Harry (the “expect patronus” spell) was something he taught outside of class. Find a mentor who is not at your school who can be a source of support as well as instruction. Perhaps you can find a mentor from your undergraduate institution, or from a conference.

5)     Reach out to Sirius Black – Although his parents were deceased, Harry had a godfather, Sirius, who played an important role of loving Harry. Reach out to your parents or family for support in grad school, even if all they do is empathize with you and tell you it will get better.

If you can find these types of allies, you will be well on your way to handling a tough advisor.

There is just one last question to consider: Is your advisor Voldemort, or is he really Snape?

El-Ghoroury, 2012

El-Ghoroury, 2012

In the books, Harry is convinced that Snape is a bad guy and out to get him, but he learns in the final book that Snape had been protecting him the whole time he was at Hogwarts. Is your advisor really trying to harm you, or are the challenges he’s giving you merely lessons to make you a stronger psychologist?

If these allies don’t help, you may need to learn some spells. Expelliarmus!


Paying It Forward

In my January 2014 gradPSYCH column, I described the idea of paying it forward and helping out the generation of graduate students following us, as well as publicly thanking those who helped us while we were in school. I am happy to start this feature off, and here are the many people I’d like to thank for their assistance, support and encouragement while I was in grad school.

  • First year blues – Moving across country to a rural town was tough for a California raised city boy like myself. Tracy Rachmiel was an advanced student when I started grad school and gave me numerous tips on surviving the academic hurdles and how to survive the long winters in Binghamton.
  • Struggling in supervision
    Tamra Holtzer & Nabil El-Ghoroury (El-Ghoroury, 2000)
    Tamra Holtzer & Nabil El-Ghoroury (El-Ghoroury, 2000)

    I shared a very challenging clinical supervisor withTamra Holtzer; we’d prepare for supervision together & discuss long cases on walks around campus.

  • Changing advisors – After struggling for several years with a very challenging mentor (think Voldemort from Harry Potter), talking with Susan Latham encouraged me to take the scary step of switching labs and mentors. She was already in the lab I planned to move to, and without her encouragement I might never have switched.
  • Applying for internship – While the internship situation when I applied had not quite hit the crisis stage, the application process was complicated and stressful. My internship prep group, Tanya Williamson and Roxanne Manning, made this process less painful and more enjoyable (and even better when Tanya and I matched to the same internship).

    Nabil El-Ghoroury, Tanya Williamson & Roxanne Manning, celebrating their graduation with their PhDs!!! (El-Ghoroury, 2002)

    Nabil El-Ghoroury, Tanya Williamson & Roxanne Manning, celebrating their graduation with their PhDs!!! (El-Ghoroury, 2002)

  • Difficult dissertation – Who doesn’t have a problem completing the dissertation? For me, it was compounded by the death of my mother while I was on internship and dissertating. Coaching and support from Elisa Krackow helped me wrap up and graduate!

If it takes a village to raise a child, perhaps it takes a department and a cohort of friends to help one earn a doctorate! This list is incomplete; I don’t have enough space to thank everyone for their assistance in graduate school. I know without the support of these friends and others, graduate school would have been a much more difficult (and lonely) journey.

Who helped you get through graduate school? Share your thanks to them in the comments. We’ll invite a couple of you to share your stories in your own article on gradPSYCH Blog!