The Value of Having a Mentor

Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame

Who is your Mentor?

Do you have an influential person in your life who supports and offers guidance to you? Are you able to discuss with this person your aspirations and experiences throughout graduate school? Have you developed knowledge and skill sets as a result of partnering with this person? If not, you may want to reach out to seek a mentor, as mentors offer a variety of benefits to graduate students.

Benefits of Having a Mentor

A mentor is not only someone who can help guide you throughout your graduate career, but also a person who can support and encourage you to maximize your potential. You can gain many benefits from being involved in a mentoring relationship:

  • Networking. Graduate students who have mentors gain knowledge and personal introductions to their mentors’ contacts. Some of these contacts may have taken the mentor many years to establish and would not be readily available to students if seeking to connect on their own.
  • Insight. A great mentor may be able to arrange experiences for graduate students to gain insight into an organization’s culture. By participating in meetings, events, or work experiences, a student can learn more about how a role is performed in the organization and get a feel for the environment. Students can also learn valuable business and life skills, including best practices and appropriate behaviors and protocols. In addition, students can discuss ideas and points of view with their mentor in a safe and confidential environment.
  • Talent development. Mentors have the ability to spot students’ unique talents and can make suggestions on how to further develop knowledge and skill sets. By being in contact with a mentor, students have access to valuable feedback that will often lead to improved performance in and outside of academia.
  • Reduced feelings of isolation. Graduate students may feel alone and isolated when thinking about their career path. Students can work with a mentor to develop a sense of peer partnership, to explore career pathways, and to determine areas for additional professional development.
  • Lessons learned. Mentees can greatly benefit from hearing lessons that their mentor has learned throughout their past experiences. By listening to successes and failures, students will most likely feel more comfortable with their career path and future employment plans.

How Mentors Fulfill their Role

Mentors are able to help graduate students in many different ways. They can:

  • Provide information and advice based on prior experience
  • Plan and think with their mentee to work through a challenging or confusing situation
  • Share different points of view to understand an issue or idea from different ways of thinking
  • Be there to listen and understand
  • Encourage their mentee to take a healthy, positive, and constructive risk

Tips for Seeking a Mentor

The following tips can be helpful if you are a graduate student seeking a mentor:

  • Participate in informational interviews, internships, and field-specific activities
  • Let faculty members know that you are looking
  • Ask someone who you know, with a career similar to the one you want, to be your mentor
  • Explore mentoring relationships with people whom you may know from conferences and/or through your professional network on LinkedIn
  • Join a professional association’s mentor program when one is provided by the organization

“If you cannot see where you are going, ask someone who has been there before.” –J. Loren Norris

By Ellen Morelli
Ellen Morelli Career Intern