In 2009 I was accepted and attended the UConn School of Social Work for Community Organizing. I walked in the door thinking I would carry-on through obtaining my PhD. Quickly, I was informed that I would have to complete two years post-MSW before being eligible for PhD per CSWE recommendation. More than two years have gone by since I completed my MSW and as a member of the alumni board, I have been asked several times "when are you coming back?" When I reflect on my MSW and think about what I would need in a program to consider entering a PhD program there is one thing that stands out above the rest- mentorship.
When I reflect on my MSW program, it was the mentorship of my professors who supported my learning both in and out of the classroom. Mentorship was not handed to me, in fact, I am not certain if those who I consider a mentor understand the impact that they have had. The school offered personnel to help guide course choices and field placements. What I am referring to though is above and beyond that.
I consider mentorship to be an individual who dedicates their time and energy to 'push back' on an individuals trajectory based on their desires to ensure a heightened level of understand for where they intend to go and what they intend to do. This can be conscious or unconscious, but clearly best when conscious and intentional.
My strongest mentorship was in the hands of my work-study professor. She set high standards, pushed back on my presumptions, and provided opportunities to help me move forward. As a result of her time, I engaged in a field of study that was different than where I started when I began school - but absolutely where I was supposed to be. I am now working in the field, in a position, directly relevant to the content she introduced me to.
This is the point where I find myself perplexed - if mentorship was so vital to me in my MSW program (and I know if I enter a PhD program, it would be equally as important), why then do I not have a mentor now?
To add irony, I am a member of the SSW alumni board on mentorship committee responsible for mentee/mentor matches. (However, to my credit, all of the potential mentors are currently matched with mentees).
Furthermore, I am certain that I am not alone in this:
- Did you have an individual who help support your path to where you are today?
- Do you plan to move up and forward in your career (same field, different field - doesn't matter)?
- Do you value bouncing ideas off another, potentially elder and wiser, individual?
- Do you value constructive criticism and support when you are considering new or different ideas?
Then doesn't everyone deserve a mentor? Wouldn't everyone benefit from a mentor?
Mentorship is not bound by the confines of the classroom.
Conversely, anyone can BE a mentor. We all have life experiences and insight that can help support conversation and thought in others. If you have lived through experiences, have time to give and space to listen - you too can mentor.
I encourage you to reach out to someone you are comfortable with (really genuinely, let your guard down, feel comfortable in insecurity, and trust answering honestly) to see if they can be a mentor to you. It may be uncomfortable, it is asking for help, which is hard to do. The benefits out-way the risk - take the leap.
(If you want pointers on "how to ask" feel free to reach out!)