What Do Graduate Students Want from Professional Mentorship?: Some Insights from a Recent Survey

17 Jan 2019 10:00 AM | Anonymous

By Teresa Ober, Elizabeth Che, and Patricia J. Brooks, GSTA Leadership

In the Fall 2018, the GSTA distributed a short survey to gather informal input about the preferences of graduate students with regards to a possible mentorship program. We were specifically interested in gauging whether graduate students would be interested in a program where they would be mentored by early career psychologists.

There have been past efforts to apply mentorship programs within the framework of existing professional organizations. The Society for the Teaching of Psychology has recently formed a mentorship program pairing early career psychologists and advanced graduate students with more senior full-time faculty. The mentorship program was featured in a recent GSTA blog by Dr. Diane Finley which describes some of the history and benefits of mentorship. Mentorship is thought to encourage networking, collaboration, and sharing of instructional resources and ideas. In addition to these benefits, mentorship has also been shown to relate to decreased work-family conflicts and increased job satisfaction in the long-term (Tenenbaum et al., 2001).

To date there has been relatively little systematic and quantitative research on mentorship as an evidence-based practice (Troisi, Leder, Stiegler-Balfour, Fleck, & Good, 2015), and virtually none on mentorship of graduate students in psychology. Existing research on professional mentorship between faculty and students indicates that it consists of two distinct components: instrumental and psychosocial help (Tenenbaum et al., 2001). “Instrumental help” involves coaching and training. “Psychosocial help” includes empathizing and counseling. In conducting this survey, we were particularly interested in the types of instrumental help that graduate students might seek in a mentorship program, as well as what types of mentorship models and modes of communication would be preferred. Research in this area is necessary to understand whether graduate students have unique needs and interests as potential mentees.


We sought to identify interests related to professional mentorship among graduate students, particularly those with a background in teaching. Last fall (October 12-November 7, 2018), the GSTA distributed a short survey to gather informal input about the preferences of graduate student instructors that would help to guide recommendations for a possible mentorship program. Graduate students were invited to participate in the survey through various STP channels of communication, including the STP and GSTA social media pages (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) and email (STP/DIV2 listserv). The survey received a total of 78 responses, summarized below.

Sample Characteristics

Graduate student respondents were asked various questions about their areas of specialization and years in graduate school. Approximately one out of four respondents indicated their field was social psychology (25.6%). There were equal proportions of respondents from clinical and cognitive psychology (14.1%), followed by developmental psychology (9.0%), and neuroscience (7.7%). Nearly half of respondents were in the second (23.1%) or third (25.6%) year of their program, followed by those in the first year (16.7%). Respondents in their fourth (12.8%), fifth (14.1%), sixth (6.4%) or seventh or higher (1.3%) year in the program represented about one out of three respondents.

When asked about their post-graduation plans, more respondents indicated an interest in working at a research-based institution (61.5%) than at a teaching-based institution (41.0%); note that respondents could indicate interest in both. Respondents indicated a preference to work at a public institution (59.0%) over a private institution (42.3%). There appeared to be a negligible difference in the preference for working at a large institution (46.2%) as opposed to a small institution (44.9%). A minority of respondents indicated an interest in working at a nonprofit organization post-graduation (2.6%).

Interest in a Mentorship Program

Over 9 in 10 of the respondents indicated either a potential interest (51.3%) or a definitive interest (39.7%) in being mentored by an early career psychologist. The remainder (9.0%) did not indicate an interest, nor did they provide an explanation for why they did not have an interest.

The survey asked about their topics for mentorship; note that respondents could indicate interest in multiple topics. Half of the respondents indicated they would like mentorship to focus on how to prepare for the job market (50.0%). Others indicated they would also like mentorship around teaching (11.4%), how to prepare work for publication (10.0%), research advisement (10.0%), engagement in service (8.6%), innovation in the field (1.4%), and jobs outside of academia (1.4%). Some indicated they were open to and interested in mentorship for all of the above noted topics (5.7%).

Respondents were asked what types of mentorship models they would most prefer. Over half of the respondents indicated an interest in dyadic mentorship (60.6%), while a minority indicated interest in a group mentorship model (35.2%). Other respondents were content with either option (4.2%).

The survey asked respondents how frequently they would like to communicate with their mentor(s). It appeared that most respondents preferred meeting about once a month (46.5%) or twice a month (36.6%). Less popular, though preferred by some respondents, involved communicating on a weekly basis (11.3%). Even fewer respondents indicated an interest in communicating less frequently, or about once every three months (5.6%).

Respondents also indicated their preferred channels of communication for a potential mentorship program, with respondents given the option to select multiple options. The vast majority of respondents indicated a preference for email (88.7%) or in-person (85.9%) communication. About half also indicated a preference for video calls (47.9%). Other respondents indicated phone (36.6%) or text messaging (36.6%) as preferred channels of communication as well.

Summary of Key Findings

Mentorship opportunities may be especially beneficial for graduate students as they try to gain a professional footing. Such opportunities can connect graduate students studying psychology to others in the field, possibly leading to long-term collaborations. Without a previous systematic investigation into the needs and interests of potential graduate student mentees, we distributed this survey to gather this information. The responses indicated a preference for a mentorship program structured around a dyadic mentor-mentee arrangement. The results also suggested that respondents preferred communication on an approximately monthly or bi-monthly basis. The most popular means of communication appeared to be email and in-person; however, over a third also indicated a preference for video call, phone, or text messaging. These findings shed light on the effective ways to organize a mentorship program.

With regards to the focus of the mentorship, given that we recruited through STP and GSTA communication channels, we were surprised that fewer than half of the respondents (41.0%) indicated interest in a teaching-based position post-graduation, and even fewer (11.4%) indicated interest in mentorship around teaching. Most of the respondents were in the earlier years of their program (first to third), suggesting that there is demand for a mentorship program geared towards students in the earlier phase of their doctoral studies.

Our findings pointed towards a greater interest and need among graduate students for mentoring on issues centrally related to preparing for the job market. Recent news articles have featured the many challenges associated with entering the job market (Smith, 2019), particularly for those who are pursuing careers in academia (Smith, 2017). Given the context of such a competitive job market even for highly skilled individuals, a successful mentorship for graduate students should incorporate both aspects of help described by Tenenbaum et al. (2001), with a focus on preparing students with the instrumental knowledge necessary for applying for jobs, and the psychosocial support to buffer the challenges and inevitable rejections they will experience in the process.

Participation in mentorship may create expectations around the education and training of graduate students as a continuous endeavor (Epstein & Hundert, 2002). Such a perspective may be particularly helpful for advanced graduate students and recent post-graduates who anticipate preparing for a competitive job market, particularly in academia. Professional mentorship opportunities may be one way to better prepare recent graduates for a long-term career, rather than forcing them to abruptly recalibrate their job ambitions. Having such opportunities beyond the formal student-advisor relationship may be one means by which institutions and organizations can promote a culture where the continual development of professional competency is held in high regard.


Epstein, R. M., & Hundert, E. M. (2002). Defining and assessing professional competence. Journal of the American Medical Association, 287, 226–235.

Smith, N. (2017, Oct 4). Too many people dream of a charmed life in academia. Bloomberg, Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2017-10-04/too-many-people-dream-of-a-charmed-life-in-academia

Smith, N. (2019, Jan 9). Burned-out millennials need careers, not just jobs. Bloomberg, Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2019-01-09/millennial-burnout-young-adults-need-careers-not-jobs

Tenenbaum, H. R., Crosby, F. J., & Gliner, M. D. (2001). Mentoring relationships in graduate school. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 59(3), 326-341.

Troisi, J. D., Leder, S., Stiegler-Balfour, J. J., Fleck, B. K., & Good, J. J. (2015). Effective teaching outcomes associated with the mentorship of early career psychologists. Teaching of Psychology, 42(3), 242-247.

Teresa Ober is a doctoral candidate in Educational Psychology at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Teresa designed and created Manuscript Builder in completion of the certificate program in Interactive Technology and Pedagogy at the Graduate Center. She is interested in the role of executive functions in language and literacy. Her research has focused on the development of cognition and language skills, as well as how technologies, including digital games, can be used to improve learning.

Elizabeth S. Che is a doctoral student in Educational Psychology at the Graduate Center, CUNY and the GSTA Deputy Chair. Her research interests include individual differences in language development, creativity, and pedagogy.

Patricia J. Brooks is Professor of Psychology at the College of Staten Island and the Graduate Center, CUNY and GSTA Faculty Advisor.  Brooks was recipient of the 2016 President’s Dolphin Award for Outstanding Teaching at the College of Staten Island, CUNY.  Her research interests are in two broad areas: (1) individual differences in language learning, (2) development of effective pedagogy to support diverse learners.​

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software