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Kevin Dalby Shares Five Reasons to Get a Mentor as a Graduate Student

Originally published on

Progressing from life as an undergraduate student to a graduate student can be an intimidating transition, in part due to the narrowing focus of the career path and increased sense of time and responsibility. As an undergraduate student, a priority was to acquire knowledge. As a graduate student, the level of social and intellectual contributions increase, as priorities change. One must not only continue to obtain further education actively, but one must also contribute to a specific field of expertise, meet deadlines, and provide guidance to other students and possibly also teach.

Dr. Kevin Dalby, a professor of chemical biology and medicinal chemistry in the College of Pharmacy, Department of Oncology at The University of Texas in Austin, knows the high expectations a graduate student strives to reach. There are multiple methods graduate students should adapt to advance towards ultimate success in graduate school. One of which includes finding an appropriate mentor. 

Having a mentor is like having a guide who will help a student navigate potential pitfalls and aid them in balancing time to achieve a quality of research and scholarship that will translate into their future success. A mentor allows graduate students to practice professional socialization and to develop realistic goals for both graduate school and the career that follows.

Below, Dr. Dalby further elaborates on five reasons why graduate students should get a mentor.

Reason #1: Receive professional, constructive criticism

A graduate student can excel in their line of work before they even start their professional career through having a mentor. A mentor provides a chance for a student to ask for constructive criticism on subjects such as the way they communicate, their self-presentation, their knowledge base or skill levels, and their work ethic. A mentor provides an opportunity for a student to receive honest feedback to uncover weaknesses or talents they might not even be aware of and to determine whether graduate school is a good fit quickly.

Reason #2: Make the right connections

Regardless of career paths, graduate students are attending school to become more qualified for whatever competitive job they ultimately desire. Not only can mentors lead students in the most progressive direction towards their career goals, but mentors can also provide the right connections to grow a resilient network. Such a community enhances the possibility that a student’s qualities will be recognized and so ultimately, the chance of success.

Reason #3: Receive the extra support needed

The unique challenges of graduate school can sometimes appear daunting, and so postgraduate students need all the encouragement and support they can get to succeed. Having a second opinion or a listening ear can help alleviate anxiety, prepare students for deadlines and exams, eliminate indecisiveness, and give students the confidence boost they sometimes need. 

Reason #4: Learn from mistakes already made

An individual needs to learn from their own mistakes, but it never hurts to learn from someone else’s mistakes when determining what to avoid while becoming an expert in ones own line of work. A mentor is there to help graduate students advance to their full potential in multiple arenas. When a mentor shares with graduate student mistakes they have not only made but learned from in the past, it can only serve to shorten the student’s path to success. 

Reason #5: Advice for free

Graduate school can be expensive, especially if scholarships are not in the picture. Students can take advantage of educational and professional career-advancing advice from a mentor at no financial cost to themselves.