Being a psychologist- or counselor-in-training can be isolating. Sure, you are surrounded by supervisors, professors, patients, and peers, but their focus is often on “the now.” These individuals are teaching, testing, and training you on a daily basis, but what about your next steps? What about your professional career, and the specific field you hope to enter?
For pressing questions such as these, it’s helpful to consult a mentor.
A mentor is someone who works in your field of interest who can help guide you in your own professional endeavors. They can answer questions, offer insight, or even just provide support, because they’ve already been through it all.
Mentors can be fantastic resources, but how do you actually find one?
Below are 5 tips for finding and connecting with potential mentors.
1. Join a professional society.
Professional societies and associations are great starting points for locating professionals in your field of interest. These can be found at national, state, and local levels, but a local group will improve your opportunities for face-to-face meetings and mentorship.
Many societies have student memberships at significantly discounted application rates, which is an added bonus for trainees. Societies and associations can be more general or increasingly specific.
Consider that the American Psychological Association has over 50 divisions representing different subdisciplines and interests. Some societies have Web pages or resources geared toward networking and mentorship, which can help get the ball rolling.
Start your search online and see what’s out there. Or, ask supervisors and colleagues at a current or past training site which societies they are members of (if you share the same professional interests).
2. Attend meetings and conferences.
Whether you are a member of a society or not, many groups will host annual meetings and conferences across the country, so check to see what conferences are being held near you.
Your training program can be a good resource for finding out about what’s going on in your area.
Striking up a conversation with the author of an interesting poster or approaching a speaker after a riveting seminar are great starting points for networking and identifying potential mentors.
When you do make connections, be sure to follow up with them after the event. It’s just as important to be a good mentee as a good mentor when building the mentorship relationship.
3. Stay in touch with past supervisors.
It never hurts to keep the lines of communication open with past supervisors. If you connected well with someone, or are hoping to work in a similar field or placement, keep in touch with them and consider reaching out to them for an informational interview—an informal conversation where you can gain information and advice about a particular career, workplace, or discipline. In general, professionals enjoy sharing their stories and personal paths that led them to their careers.
4. Branch out from your professional “family tree.”
Each year of training, you connect with new supervisors, professors, and peers. While these individuals can serve as valuable mentors in their own right, consider branching out a step or two to the influential figures in their careers.
Perhaps a colleague had a fantastic supervisor in a setting that interests you and can provide an introduction. Maybe a supervisor had a trainee who went on to pursue a career in your field of interest and can connect you.
We have all gotten to where we are through the gracious time and help of others, so open up your own possibilities by reaching deeper into your network.
5. Contact school alumni.
Many trainees passed through your program before you arrived, creating a network of potential mentors.
As an added bonus, your program most likely has an easily accessible directory of alumni, their current profession, and their contact information.
You also have a ready-made introduction by explaining that you are a current student of the program, and there’s always the opportunity to bond over shared classes, professors, or training experiences to make early conversations more comfortable.
Some schools and programs have formal student-alumni mentor networks. If yours does not, you may want to consider approaching your administration with the idea.
A great mentor will help guide you along your professional path so that you can enter the career that is right for you.
Some of your mentorship relationships may be shorter, such as helping you get through your dissertation or apply for internship. Other mentorships may be longer, and you could even end up getting referrals from your mentor down the road.
But, each one will serve as a stepping stone in your professional life. And you don’t have to stop at just one mentor. When you find helpful mentors, keep them. Collect them.
Always remember to be polite and respect a mentor’s time, but don’t be afraid to reach out to inspiring and insightful professionals. You never know who may end up becoming your next mentor.