Is there friction between you and your mentor? Have your professional aspirations changed? Is your relationship with him
or her just not clicking?
These are not uncommon problems to cross graduate students’
paths as they develop and navigate their relationships with
gradPSYCH asked four experts about the warning signs of a
mentor relationship gone bad and what to do about it.
Patrick H. DeLeon, PhD, JD
Professor at the Uniformed Services
University of the Health Sciences in
the School of Nursing and School of
Medicine and on the faculty of the
University of Hawaii in nursing, law
“If it’s not working for the grad
student, it’s probably not working for
the professor. The longer it drags on,
the longer it becomes a self-fulfilling
prophecy, so be alert and realize if one side is not that comfortable
or enthusiastic, then that’s how you know the mentorship isn’t
working. Graduate school should be spent learning about new
professions, new ideas, new friendships, so one should pay a lot of
attention when mentorships don’t seem to work and start off by
addressing why not.
“Then, consider chatting with other senior students who
know that mentor. You should not assume it will work at some
point. The approach should be: get engaged, modify it and move
on to someone else. It is very much instinctual. In psychology you
clearly learn how personalities match and feel comfortable, so if it
doesn’t feel like it is working, then it very well may not be.”
Lucia Albino Gilbert, PhD
Professor of psychology and counseling
psychology at Santa Clara University
“When difficulties arise in the
mentoring relationship, the student
needs to explain to the mentor why
the relationship isn’t working for him
or her. It is important in entering
into a mentoring relationship to be
clear about one’s expectations of the
relationship and what the other person
is expected to do to make it work.
You have to be receptive to feedback and need to have realistic
expectations of the mentor.
“If after that conversation, the relationship still isn’t working
for the student, her or she should consult with someone who
could provide guidance about how to handle the situation
(without naming names) — like another faculty member or
someone they respect on campus.
“The bottom line is that if the student says, ‘This isn’t the
way I want to go,’ I think the mentor will respect that. Although
there could be a surprise factor for the mentor, if the mentee is
communicating along the way, I don’t think it would be a problem.”
How do I
break up with
BY COLLEEN WILSON
Early career and seasoned psychologists answer graduate students’ top questions.