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An open book

Graduate students needn't feel alone when it comes to figuring out how to find and work with a mentor. A new book, "Getting Mentored in Graduate School" (APA, 2002), aims to help.

The authors, W. Brad Johnson, PhD, professor of leadership, ethics and law at the U.S. Naval Academy, and Jennifer Huwe, PsyD, of the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center, say they were inspired by their own mentor/mentee relationship.

"Brad's coaching, guidance and support were instrumental, as I developed a strong professional identity, completed my dissertation on time and competed for internship and postdoctoral training opportunities," Huwe says.

To help students establish similarly successful mentoring relationships, their book offers such advice as:

  • Don't procrastinate. Begin the process of finding a mentor early.

  • Choose your mentor carefully. Although there are no perfect mentors, some are better than others.

  • Become the kind of protégé that an excellent mentor would want. Work hard, meet deadlines, communicate clearly, accept increasing responsibility, receive constructive feedback without getting defensive and make the mentor aware of your short- and long-term goals so that he or she can serve as an informed career guide.

Taking such steps is worth it, say Johnson and Huwe, because research shows that students with a good mentor tend to get more opportunities (such as publications, grants and assistantships), better letters of recommendation and better information about how to find a good job.

"A good mentor...serves as a role model," Johnson says, "demonstrating complex professional skills that rarely can be learned in any other way."

For her dissertation, Huwe investigated the mentorship experiences of Navy admirals, and says, "I was amazed to learn how essential mentorships with more seasoned, senior officers were to the success of these high-ranking individuals."

But don't sit around and wait for that perfect mentor to find you, or you'll be disappointed, says Huwe. She says, "excellent mentors attract talented students who are willing to take the first step to initiate the relationship."

"Getting Mentored in Graduate School" is available from the APA Order Department at (800) 374-2721 or at APA Books.