Psychology students’ perception of mentoring

Cronan, T. A., Van Liew, C., Stal, J., Marr, N., Patrus, A., Mansoor, M., & Cronan, S. B. (2020). In the eye of the beholder: Students’ views of mentors in psychology. Teaching of  Psychology, 47(1), 15–23. 


Summarized by Ariel Ervin


Notes of Interest: 

  • The present study assesses if students’ perception of mentoring has shifted due to the increase of faculty member research and an increase in research opportunities undergraduate students have to get involved in the faculty’s research teams
  • The sample consisted of 227 undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral students from two American public universities 
  • Participants filled out a questionnaire on their experience with a mentor
  • Findings show that psychology has acclimated well to the rise of faculty research and the involvement of undergraduate students
  • Results also indicated that while both undergraduate and graduate students sought mentors based on their interest in their futures, undergraduates were more likely to find a mentor that’s inspirational, while graduate students were more likely to find mentors based on their research interests
  • Students of all levels reported that they were happy with their mentoring relationships

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

The purpose of the present study was to determine whether students’ views of mentors have changed as a function of the increased number of faculty members conducting research and the inclusion of undergraduate students in faculty mentors’ research teams, using reports from current students. The participants were 227 undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral students at two large, Western public universities located in the United States. One institution was a research-intensive university and the other was not. Students were asked to complete a questionnaire about whether they had a mentor, the characteristics of their mentors, and their perceptions of their mentors. The findings indicated that 28.5% of undergraduates and 95% of graduate students had mentors. Undergraduate students were significantly more likely to choose mentors for being inspiring instructors, and graduate students were significantly more likely to choose mentors because of interest in their research. The most important characteristic of both good and bad mentors was personality. Students at all levels perceived their mentors as very interested in their futures. Mentor satisfaction was high among students at all levels. The findings are encouraging, and they provide evidence that psychology has adapted well to the increased number of faculty conducting research and to the inclusion of undergraduate students in research.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

The findings from the present study indicated that almost half of the student respondents had mentors. More graduate than undergraduate students reported having mentors. This is consistent with other research indicating that having a mentor was more common for graduate than for undergraduate students (Blake-Beard, Bayne, Crosby, & Muller, 2011; Clark et al., 2000). This is hardly surprising, as students have more time and opportunity to form a relationship with mentors as their educational level increases. However, undergraduate students were more satisfied and more likely to want to be like their mentors than graduate students. 

Findings from the present study also indicated that undergraduate students were more likely to select a mentor because he or she was an inspiring instructor, while graduate students were more likely to select a mentor because of similar interests. This corresponds to the differences in the ways that different levels of students are selected by faculty. Undergraduate students are more likely to become a member of a mentor’s research team through enrollment in a mentor’s course or an informal selection process. On the other hand, graduate students usually submit formal applications to the department in which they would like to complete their degree, often motivated by mentorship match and research alignment (Kracen & Wallace, 2008). Faculty members then interview a number of potential graduate students before making decisions about which graduate student(s) they would like to admit to the program and have work with them. 

Students at all levels reported perceiving their mentors as interested in their futures. Undergraduate- and master’s-level students perceived their mentors to be most interested in helping them get into graduate school. Doctoral students perceived their mentors as most interested in helping them obtain a postdoctoral position or job. These findings indicate that mentors are sensitive to the problems their mentees face at each stage of their careers, as their focus changes from the university to the outside world.


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