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Eye on Psi Chi: Spring 1999
Choosing a Mentor
Drew Appleby, PhD, Marian College (IN)

[The following article is a printed version of an address presented by Dr. Appleby after he had been chosen as the charter recipient of Marian College's Mentor of the Year Award in 1996.]

It was a distinct pleasure to be the charter recipient of Marian's Mentor of the Year Award. I have had the opportunity to guide hundreds of students in their quests for academic and personal fulfillment during my quarter century at Marian. To have been able to do this is a reward in itself, but to be publicly recognized for my efforts is a special honor indeed! This award has given me the incentive to reflect upon my mentoring experiences—and my observations of other mentors and their proteges—and, in doing so, I have come to the conclusion that successful mentor-protege relationships do not happen by accident. The most successful mentoring relationships I have encountered have been those in which the proteges have made careful and conscious efforts to select mentors who possess certain qualities. These qualities are what determine the success of the "chemistry" of the mentor-protege relationship, and they differ for every protege, because each protege is a unique human, with a distinct set of needs, concerns, and aspirations.

Over two millennia ago, Socrates said "Know thyself." This advice is as valid today as it was in Socrates' time, and it is particularly relevant to proteges in search of mentors. "Know thyself." Who do you want to become, how must you change to become that person, and how can you use your college experience to bring about these changes? A well-chosen mentor can help you answer these questions. A poorly chosen one will only frustrate you and leave you with more questions than answers. According to the Marian College Catalog, "Mentors provide guidance so that students are aware of the resources available and of their options when faced with academic, personal, or career-related decisions." Choose a mentor who you admire and with whom you can communicate easily and honestly so you can receive this type of guidance. Choose your mentor carefully; it will be one of the most important decisions you will make during your college career.

My experience tells me that successful mentors possess at least one (if not more) of the following fundamental qualities: They are professionally competent, they are interpersonally skillful, and/or they possess certain crucial personal attributes. The following outline analyzes these qualities into their individual components. As you read through the outline, think very carefully about what characteristics are most important to you in your quest for the advice that will help you to make wise academic, personal, and career-related decisions.

Interpersonal Skills
Caring and Encouraging

– Displays empathic and nonjudgmental understanding of proteges.
– Helps proteges develop a positive self-concept.

Promoting and Sponsoring
– Communicates positive aspects of proteges to others.
– Can "open doors" to career and graduate school opportunities for proteges.

Supporting and Protecting
– Serves as a source of emotional support for proteges during difficult times.
– Is able and willing to defend proteges if the need arises.

Challenging and Demanding
– Motivates proteges to attempt new tasks that stretch their current abilities.
– Is unwilling to accept less-than-optimal performance from proteges.

Personal Attributes
Mature and Wise

– Has attained advanced personal, social, and professional development.
– Has a reputation for giving accurate and useful advice.

Friendly and Optimistic
– Appears to genuinely like proteges and the process of mentoring them.
– Maintains a positive outlook on life for her/himself and for her/his proteges.

Admired and Respected
– Possesses characteristics that proteges aspire to attain.
– Is held in high regard by her/his peers.

Trustworthy and Dependable
– Possesses ethical and moral integrity and expects the same of others.
– Is willing to provide assistance to proteges even under difficult conditions.

Professional Competencies
Qualified and Competent

– Possesses the necessary experiences or credentials.
– Performs her/his professional role in a capable and effective manner.

Experienced and Seasoned
– Has successfully traveled the path that her/his proteges are now traveling.
– Willing to share personal/professional experiences and mistakes with proteges.

Knowledgeable and Informative
– Possesses accurate and up-to-date information that can benefit proteges.
– Is able and willing to communicate this information to proteges.

Professionally Involved and Active
– Is actively involved in her/his professional or academic organizations.
– Continues to learn and develop within her/his profession.

Now that you have read this list of characteristics, which are the ones you want your mentor to possess so that she/he can help you attain your goals? If your major goal is to use your college experience to overcome your shyness and bolster your self-esteem, then I suggest you seek out a mentor who is friendly, caring, encouraging, optimistic, and supportive. If one of your basic problems is a lack of motivation, then you should choose a mentor who is challenging and demanding. Do you want to go to graduate school? If so, you will benefit most from a mentor who is professionally qualified, academically competent, respected enough to write you a letter of recommendation that graduate programs will take seriously, and is well enough connected with professional colleagues on other campuses to "open doors" for you when you apply for graduate school.

The combinations of these successful mentor characteristics are as endless as the number of proteges who are seeking mentors. If you are thinking about choosing a mentor, my recommendation is to heed the advice of both Socrates and Nike. Do some careful soul-searching so that you can "Know thyself," get to know as many potential mentors as possible so you can decide who possesses the right combination of characteristics to help you accomplish your goals, and then "Just do it."


Drew C. Appleby, PhD, received his BA in psychology from Simpson College in 1969 and his PhD in experimental psychology from Iowa State University in 1972. He is currently the chairperson of the Marian College Psychology Department and holds the rank of Professor of Psychology. He has been at Marian since 1972 where he has taught General Psychology, Honors General Psychology, Advanced General Psychology, The Psychology Major, Developmental Psychology, Human Growth and Development, Human Learning and Cognition, Human Information Processing, History of Psychology, Senior Psychology Seminar, Issues in Human Development, Excelling in College, and Study Skills. He is the author of The Psychology Handbook, has numerous publications in professional journals, and has made over 200 presentations before a variety of both professional and nonprofessional audiences. He was elected to Fellow status of the Teaching Division of APA in 1992, received both APA's Outstanding Psychology Teacher Award in a Four-Year College or University and Marian College's Award for Teaching Excellence in 1993, and was chosen by APA to present its G. Stanley Hall Teaching Lecture in 1998. He was recognized for his advising skills by the National Academic Advising Association when he received the Outstanding Adviser Award of it Great Lakes Region in 1988 and for his mentoring skills by being the charter recipient of Marian's Mentor of the Year Award in 1996. He is a consulting editor for Teaching of Psychology, serves as the director of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology's Mentoring Service, and has been a consultant to other psychology departments.

Copyright 1999 (Volume 3, Issue 3) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology


 

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