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Be Telemachus, Find Mentor
by Alvin Y. Wang, PhD, Psi Chi Society President
Categories: Presidents' Message
You are probably familiar with the mythological figure Odysseus who is the hero of Homer's epic poem The Odyssey. However, many of you may not know that when Odysseus left for the Trojan War, he entrusted his wise friend Mentor to oversee the education of his young son Telemachus. The eponym "mentor" has come to mean someone who is a trusted guide, positive role model, and caring teacher.
A great deal of education research has shown the benefits of successful mentoring and you can find several online articles in Eye on Psi Chi that promote mentorship. Some of these articles also describe the qualities that you should seek in an effective mentor and mentoring relationship (Koch, 2002; McElroy and Altarriba, 2001; Olatunji, 2000; Hammer, 2003). Early in my career, I benefitted enormously from both faculty and professional mentors and I am sure that if asked, your professors can also identify someone who made a lasting impression on their professional and scholarly development.
As an undergraduate student, I was expected to retain a great deal of knowledge about psychology. Whether from textbooks, class lectures, or discussions, I acquired information deemed important by my faculty and other experts in the discipline. However, I realized that while I was learning something about the subject matter, I had no idea about what psychologists actually do. Textbooks gave me a sense of the information that psychologists valued, but did not provide me with a sense of what psychologists experience as academics and professionals. In fact, the only real way to learn about the diverse work conditions and lifestyles of psychologists is from a faculty or professional mentor. So if you are thinking about a career in psychology, finding a mentor is key to understanding what you can expect as a future professional in the discipline.
Finding a mentor is more important than ever because of the increasing emphasis placed on providing experiential learning opportunities for psychology students. Whether you are considering opportunities for research, internships, or field-work, the fact is that you will need to find a mentor. Perhaps you are thinking about conducting research. Several articles in Eye on Psi Chi provide suggestions for how you can become involved in research and why most graduate programs value this sort of activity (Grover, 2006; Landrum, 2002; Ossoff, 1998). It is also the case that in today's psychology departments, access to a research participant pool, IRB compliance, and proper guidance in research methodology and ethics all require working closely with a faculty mentor. Simply put, mentoring is a necessary part of conducting student research-at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
So how does a student go about finding a mentor? While it may be intimidating for some undergraduates to introduce themselves to faculty, but there are proven and fairly simple techniques for properly introducing yourself and establishing a mentoring relationship. Prior to showing up during office hours, visit the psychology department website to learn more about your faculty and determine their research programs. Do any of these faculty research programs interest you? If so, you are ready to introduce yourself during faculty office hours.
There are just two things to keep in mind when introducing yourself. First, do not forget to mention that you are a member of Psi Chi. In so doing, you will immediately gain credibility as a serious and accomplished student of psychology. Second-and this is important-get the faculty member to start talking about his or her research. This is important because faculty are passionate about their research and there is nothing more flattering (professionally speaking) than having someone ask about their research interests. If you share this interest, chances are high that after such a conversation you will have found your faculty mentor and be asked to join a research team.
So-armed with these techniques, be Telemachus and find Mentor!
Grover, S. F. (Fall, 2006). Undergraduate Research: Getting Involved and Getting Into Graduate School (A Student's Perspective), Eye on Psi Chi, 11(1), 18-20.
Koch, C. (Spring, 2002). Getting Involved by Getting a Mentor. Eye on Psi Chi, 6 (3), 28, 36.
Landrum, R. E. (Winter, 2002). Maximizing Undergraduate Opportunities: The Value of Research and Other Experiences. Eye on Psi Chi, 6(2), 15-18.
McElroy, J., and Altarriba, J. (Winter, 2001). The Advisor-Student Relationship: The Cornerstone of a Successful Psi Chi Chapter. Eye on Psi Chi, 5(2), 32-33.
Olatunji, B. O. (Fall, 2000). Getting to Know Your Undergraduate Faculty: A Valuable Asset. Eye on Psi Chi, 5(1), 30.
Ossoff, E. P. (Spring, 1998). Involving the Undergraduate in Faculty Research. Eye on Psi Chi, 2(3), 18-20.
Yost Hammer, E. (Spring, 2003). The Importance of Being Mentored. Eye on Psi Chi, 7(3), 4-5.
All of these Eye on Psi Chi articles are available online at http://www.psichi.org/pubs/eye/ Go to View by Category and search articles by Research and Faculty/Teaching.