When Elaine Phillips, PhD, was a master's student in psychology 30 years ago, she did not have any female professors. "There was no one like me teaching me," said Phillips, a professor and licensed psychologist at Western Michigan University in the University Counseling and Testing Center.

But the 22-year-old feminist graduate student found her unlikely mentor in a white, middle-aged male professor. "The profession of psychology would look very different today if people like him did not reach out," Phillips said.

Phillips was among a group of psychologists talking about the need for more professors to open up their offices--and their minds--to mentees during "Women and work: mentoring for diversity" at APA's Annual Convention in Chicago, Aug. 22- 25.

Psychologists can benefit from looking beyond gender, race, social class, culture and ethnicity in mentoring others or finding a mentor themselves, the speakers said. And mentors don't have to come from the same discipline, said Helen D. Pratt, PhD, of Michigan State University/Kalamazoo Center for Medical Studies' Pediatrics Program. "Psychologists are often employed in settings where they represent the only person of their discipline," Pratt said. "Opportunities to mentor or be mentored by another psychologist are not always available."

If you look for a mentor outside the field, Pratt advises psychologists and graduate students to find someone who is doing similar work but in a different arena, such as publishing, research, presenting or clinical care. Then, research who they are by reviewing their resumes, reading their published works, attending their presentations and talking to them.

What does it take to be a successful mentor? According to Pratt, it's the person who:

  • Only gives what the mentee asks for.

  • Arrives on time to scheduled appointments.

  • Returns calls, e-mails and letters promptly.

  • Does not take calls or pages during scheduled meeting times.

  • Allows the mentees to cancel meetings if they did not complete self-assigned projects.

  • Requires mentees to document and remember discussions.

Phillips noted that research shows successful mentors are flexible, attentive, nondefensive, good communicators, supportive, resourceful, open to new ideas, able to assist in goal setting and willing to follow up with the student.

"Mentoring is a significant aspect of leadership," said Edwin P. Hollander, PhD, City University of New York Distinguished Professor Emeritus. Mentoring benefits both the mentor and the mentee, he added.

Pratt requires her mentees to make a promise--if they see someone struggling, they have to promise to reach out and mentor them.