Making the Most of Mentorship: Thoughts from a Student

by Sara Catherine Pearson, PharmD Candidate 2018

In my first year of pharmacy school I was matched with a mentor through a formal mentorship program. When asked, “Why do you want a mentor? What do you hope to gain from the experience?” I drew a blank. On the surface I knew I needed a mentor, but my scope of mentorship was so limited that I could not articulate why I needed a mentor. Throughout my time in pharmacy school, I have come to appreciate the importance of having someone “in your corner”– someone wiser and more experienced who can serve as a sounding-board, provide honest and constructive feedback, and cheer you on as you juggle academics, extracurriculars, and pursue big dreams of residency and academia.

Individuals who are “in your corner” may serve as formal or informal mentors throughout life, or simply for a season of life. These mentor/mentee relationships can develop from formal mentorship programs, in which students and faculty are matched based on professional interests, or develop serendipitously.1 Many definitions of mentorship exist, however I appreciate how Gordon Shea describes it as, “a fundamental form of human development where one person invests time, energy and personal know-how in assisting the growth and ability of another person.”2 Ultimately, the goal of any type of mentor relationship, whether formal or informal, is personal and professional growth.

Students interested in pursuing careers in academia may further recognize the value of having a faculty mentor for their professional development. What could be more beneficial than having a mentor who is sitting where you see yourself five to ten years in the future? As a first year pharmacy student I did not fully understand the true value of mentorship. Now, reflecting on my experience with mentorship throughout pharmacy school, I have a better understanding of what I really needed and wanted from a mentor.

What I didn’t even know I needed from my mentor…

1. Advice and anecdotes about academia (and life)
I always love to hear my professors tell stories about their early years in academia, why they chose this field, and what they have learned along the way. Their stories remind me that I will make mistakes, but a career in academia is as much about learning as it is about teaching. These last few months, wholly consumed by residency applications, I have relied heavily on their advice, encouragement, and their willingness to simply listen as I think aloud and process the decisions I am making. I believe you, as faculty, have a unique ability to relate to your students because of your own journey through pharmacy school and residency, and to help us as we go through (and sometimes struggle through) these similar experiences.

2. Specific, attainable, short and long-term goals to work towards together.
My mentor has orchestrated numerous opportunities for me to develop skills and gain experiences that will be useful as I pursue a career in academia. As I have progressed through pharmacy school my role in these projects has evolved. Below are just a few examples of these experiences that I believe would be beneficial for all students interested in pursuing academia.

  1. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning projects
  2. Poster presentations for state and national meetings
  3. Manuscript writing and revising
  4. Committee meetings and conference calls (academia isn’t always glamorous)
  5. Co-peer reviewing journal articles
  6. Serving as a teaching assistant for pharmacy care labs, problems based learning courses, and online discussion forums–level of involvement may range from simply grading activities to developing and facilitating these activities.

3. The AACP Walmart Scholars Program
I recently participated in the AACP Walmart Scholars Program at the AACP Annual Meeting in Nashville with my faculty mentor. I came away from the experience feeling inspired and excited to pursue a career in academia. For those unfamiliar, each year the AACP Walmart Scholars program provides $1,000 scholarships to up to 85 student-faculty pairs to attend the AACP Annual Meeting and Teachers Seminar.3 If you have a student seriously considering a career in academia, I highly recommend that you consider applying for this program. In addition to gaining inspiration and excitement from the meeting, I also took away a new appreciation for the value of mentorship.

If you know a student interested in academia, take them under your wing. Encourage them and support them in their pursuit of this highly demanding and rewarding career. It’s worth the investment of time and energy. You’ll feel re-inspired watching the growth of that student and perhaps continue to grow in your own personal and professional life. Not only will they be eternally grateful, but your example might just inspire them to mentor the next generation of academicians.

Acknowledgements:

To Dr. Liz Lafitte for introducing me to Pulses and for her assistance in writing this article. To my mentor, Dr. Adam Pate, for serving as the inspiration for this article. Thanks for taking me under your wing–I promise to pay it forward.

References

  1. Law AV, Bottenberg MM, Brozick AH, et al. A checklist for the development of faculty mentorship programs. Am J Pharm Educ. 2014;78(5):98.
  2. Shea GF. Mentoring. Crisp Learning; 1992.
  3. AACP Walmart Scholars Program. AACP. https://www.aacp.org/resource/aacp-walmart-scholars-program. Accessed December 10, 2017.

Sara PearsonSara Catherine Pearson is a final year student at the University of Louisiana at Monroe School of Pharmacy. Educational and scholarship interests include leadership development, student success and classroom engagement. In her free time, Sara Catherine enjoys reading/listening to a good book or podcast and spending time with her family.


Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning

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