Matters to a Degree

A mentor can serve as a vital resource for getting into graduate school and getting the most out of it once you're there, but most students think of potential mentors as those with years of experience. Often overlooked is the important role peer mentors can play in helping you navigate the complex graduate school application and entrance process, and in offering insider tips and guidance throughout the multifaceted sequence of steps involved in earning an advanced degree in psychology.

Peer mentors can coach you about how to present yourself during a graduate admissions interview, help you select courses offered by the most engaging professors, listen to you vent about the stress of preparing for comprehensive exams and encourage self-care activities. That's because a peer mentor is in the unique position of knowing almost exactly what you're facing--they've recently been through most of the same experiences themselves.

GRAD SCHOOL = BIG CHANGES

The transition from undergraduate to graduate student is rarely easy. Not only do the academic demands multiply once you're in graduate school, but former outstanding undergraduate students are now a part of a cohort of other equally outstanding students. You're unlikely to still be the best, brightest and most productive student in your class. This can lead to adjustment difficulties and feeling like you're an imposter or unsuited for therigors of graduate study.

Likewise, graduate school can be lonely and isolating. Your family may not understand the requirements or intensity of graduate training, especially if you are the first in your family to pursue an advanced degree.

You may have little time to see your friends between the demands of coursework, practicum, research, assistantship, teaching, internship applications, dissertation and studying. And, when you do have spare time, you'll probably use it to get some long overdue sleep!

The rewards of graduate training are certainly rich, which is why I-and many gradPSYCH readers-made the necessary sacrifices to gain entry into a graduate program and do what is needed to earn our advanced degrees. Nevertheless, the process has considerable challenges along the way. Being able to identify a peer mentor with whom you can confide, trust and rely on to give you good advice and honest feedback can benefit both parties.


GETTING STARTED

The most obvious place to seek a peer mentor is through your own graduate program or those that you are applying to. Most people are flattered to know that you might be interested in connecting with them for mentorship. Just ask students who have impressed you if they'll be your peer mentor.

But you need not stick to your own program. Look for mentors through your local, state or national psychological association. Attend conferences to meet like-minded peers from a wide variety of programs and regions. Even though these mentors won't know your program's idiosyncrasies, they can provide guidance about a range of other professional issues.

Successful peer-mentoring relationships are fairly easy to define and develop. Here are some suggestions for getting started:

  • Identify a need or goal that the other person can help you with.

  • Find a professional characteristic in each other that you admire and want to emulate.

  • Communicate openly about your needs, goals and the skills you choose as the focus of your mentoring relationship.

  • Commit to regular meetings, preferably face to face, to work on the issues and competencies you want to develop.

Graduate school is tough, but you don't need to figure it out all on your own. Tap your peers to help you succeed. Visit the APAGS Web site at www.apa.org/apags for information on the many mentoring programs we offer.

A peer mentor is in the unique position of knowing almost exactly what you’re facing—they’ve recently been through most of the same experiences themselves.