There are many differences between being an undergraduate and a graduate student. Often graduate students say they’re surprised by how much more they read and the time they spend preparing for class. Other students relish the new found academic independence. But perhaps one of the biggest changes you will experience as a graduate student is how you interact with your mentor. As an undergraduate, your mentor may have filled more of an advisor function, helping you determine which courses would be best for your academic interests while helping you graduate on time or giving you advice on preparing your applications for graduate school. As a graduate student, your relationship with your mentor is much more involved.
To help you navigate your relationship with your faculty mentor, we’ve given advice about seeking and selecting mentors and building mentoring relationships that last, as well as information about the benefits of peer mentoring. The Office of Graduate Studies also provides a mentoring guidebook to help graduate students better understand the student and mentor relationship.
While faculty mentors play an important role in providing guidance for your educational, professional, and personal growth, some students seek additional mentoring outside of academia to enhance their graduate school experience. The Cather Circle is one example of how students expand their experiences being mentored. The Cather Circle, created in 1999 by the Alumni Association, connects female UNL graduate and undergraduate students with alumnae who pursued a variety of careers. Sylvia Jons, masters student in educational administration, is one of the graduate students who takes advantage of opportunities through the Cather Circle. She works with a mentor from the FBI. The pairing of an educational administration student and a member of the FBI may not seem like the most natural choice, but Sylvia finds that the relationship works well for her: “My mentor through the Cather Circle was the first woman to achieve a top position in her specialty, and I want to move up through the ranks of educational administration in higher education, a predominately male field. Her guidance and advice is not just valuable during my graduate education; as I begin my professional career, it will help me to have the support of a woman who knows what it’s like to navigate a male-dominated field.”
The Cather Circle holds annual meetings where students are paired with an alumna mentor from across the country. The relationships built through the Cather Circle often carry on after the mentee has graduated and provide more than just professional support, says Jons. “I’m grateful for my faculty mentor and the other students in my program, but I’m also glad to have someone who is outside UNL to talk to, especially when I’ve had a rough week. My mentor doesn’t always give advice, sometimes she just listens.”
Faculty mentor relationships are important to your success as a graduate student, and opportunities to work with mentors outside academia are also beneficial for many reasons: They can help you see your program and job search from a different perspective, help you learn to navigate the private sector if you choose to pursue a profession outside of academia, and provide additional support throughout your program. Alumni from your program and professionals in your industry are both excellent sources for finding a mentor. If you’re interested in working with a professional mentor, work with your faculty advisor to identify an appropriate mentor among alumni or members of the community.