Making the Case for Multiple Mentors

Higher education necessitates academic mentorship. At the graduate level, it is often compulsory. But what about mentorship for those on non-academic career paths? As academic mentorship is a cornerstone of academic success, I propose that non-academic mentors are equally as important for career success outside of the academy. Given that less than 20% of PhD holders in Canada will find tenure-track positions (Conference Board of Canada, 2015), I think it’s time to mentor up.

A good mentor can be quite valuable in helping us to learn new skills and cultural norms, to plan a career path, to develop a professional identity, to grow our network… this list could go on for a while. That said, imagine how valuable 2 or 3 (or more, it’s up to you really) mentors could be in determining your career path. While the case for multiple mentors remains relevant at all levels of education and employment positions, I’d like to make a special case of importance for those pursuing a PhD.

In a recent discussion with a colleague on mentorship for PhDs transitioning to non-academic careers, we wondered why so many PhDs seek counsel solely from their academic advisors. If we’re lucky, academic advising at the PhD level fosters close relationships while building a wealth of skills, competencies, and attitudes to launch a career. This is not a case against academic mentorship, but a calling for accompaniment by industry mentorship. Personally, I had a wonderful academic mentorship experience with my Master’s and PhD supervisor but I knew I needed advice from somewhere else if I expected to find a job outside of the academy once I graduated. And I needed to start yesterday.

In the same way that we can’t expect CEOs to advise us on a dissertation or academic grant proposals, we can’t expect tenured professors who have never left the academy in pursuit of a career in industry or government to advise us on being successful in such careers. Numerous reports have surfaced across the globe over the past 10 years with similar themes of PhD holders feeling that generally speaking, they have a lack of practice communicating their “transferrable skills” with non-academic audiences and that they lack of a professional network outside of the academy.

My experience: I found a non-academic mentor through doing informational interviews about 2/3 of the way through my program. I didn’t officially ask this person to mentor me the day we met; it happened more organically. After meeting a few times, I found that I was comfortable asking this person for career advice and that they were genuinely interested in supporting someone starting their career.

Bottom line: Mentor up! Even if you’re on an academic career path, there will be benefits.

-Rebecca Maymon

 

References:

Edge, Jessica, and Daniel Munro. Inside and Outside the Academy: Valuing and Preparing PHDs for Careers. Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada, 2015.

 

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