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Finding Mentors to Support Your Success

In honor of National Mentoring Month, our newsletter focuses on what it takes to build a strong mentoring team for yourself. Having a support system is vital to your success in graduate school.

Advisor versus mentor. Generally speaking, an academic or career advisor is assigned to you, directs you to fulfill course or career development requirements, points you to texts or job resources in your field and helps you identify baseline milestones that you must meet in order to graduate with your degree or enter the job market. A mentor is invested in learning about your motivations and passions as a graduate student, shares insights about the norms and challenges of graduate school and encourages you to define what success means to you. Importantly, a mentor will lend an empathic ear to you: not only as a student, but as a whole person. Can a faculty or staff advisor also be your mentor? Yes. Is this always the case? No. This is why it’s important to deepen your bench of people who are in your corner.

Types of mentors. A mentor is that someone in your life who asks you good questions or inspires you to be your best self just because of how they live in the world. It may not matter if you have very different lives or careers. If you connect with that person, and something in your interactions helps you shine more brightly, then awesome — count them in your circle. Mentors can serve as consultants, coaches, guides, sponsors or thought partners (and more). Peers, staff and faculty in and beyond your university, professionals in your field, and members of your cultural and spiritual communities are all potential mentors. And identifying mentors who will complement your needs requires some initial self-reflection. It’s helpful to assess what you need from a potential mentor before requesting their guidance. Be as specific as possible, and think about where your own gaps might be. Is it in research mentorship, career direction, personal goals or worldview alignment? We also recommend building a mentoring team because it is difficult, if not impossible, for one person to have all the qualities you need in a mentor.

Frequency of mentoring. Depending on your mentor, as well as your goals and interests as a graduate student, the frequency of your mentoring meetings will vary. The scale of mentoring will also vary over time, as you complete small and large milestones, and even dependent on the kind of week you’re having. You may need to check in with your mentor quickly in the hallway, Skype for an hour once a month, or schedule 30 minute check-ins once a week over coffee. Sometimes, a mentor on your team may be your go-to person when you really need to talk through something; a person whom you call when you need them rather than following a standard meeting schedule. When your time is really constrained, it’s important to make the most of your mentoring relationships. Check out these tips on micro-mentoring (geared toward the workplace but still relevant).

Finally, it’s helpful to understand that a mentoring relationship is a reciprocal relationship — a “two-way street” where you are also making important contributions and being accountable to your success in graduate school. Interested in learning how to do and be your best as a mentee? Check out this resource.

Do these tips make you think of someone who’s already on your mentoring team? Has this particular someone made a difference in your life? In the spirit of National Mentoring Month, take a minute and send them a thank you note or text. Sometimes people don’t know the positive impact they have on others, so expressing gratitude is a great way way to acknowledge their importance in your life. In the same spirit, we proudly announce that the 2019 Postdoc Mentoring Award nomination process has started! Submit a nomination by Thursday, February 28 for an outstanding postdoc whom you consider your mentor.

As always, we hope these strategies are helpful to you, and please let us know what works!


Core Programs—Office of Graduate Student Affairs
UW Graduate School