Make a Career-Long Connection Take some key steps in graduate school to cultivate mentoring relationships helpful to professional success. Student's Say
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Student's Say  |   August 01, 2018
Make a Career-Long Connection
Author Notes
  • Sally K. Wilson, MS, CF-SLP, is a recent graduate of Longwood University and is completing her clinical fellowship in a skilled nursing facility. sally.wilson@live.longwood.edu
    Sally K. Wilson, MS, CF-SLP, is a recent graduate of Longwood University and is completing her clinical fellowship in a skilled nursing facility. sally.wilson@live.longwood.edu×
Article Information
School-Based Settings / Professional Issues & Training / Student's Say
Student's Say   |   August 01, 2018
Make a Career-Long Connection
The ASHA Leader, August 2018, Vol. 23, 40-42. doi:10.1044/leader.SSAY.23082018.40
The ASHA Leader, August 2018, Vol. 23, 40-42. doi:10.1044/leader.SSAY.23082018.40
Where would we be without our supervisors, advisers and mentors? Ask just about any seasoned audiologist or speech-language pathologist about how they reached their professional success, and chances are their answers will include trusted relationships they forged in graduate school.
Graduate school may be one of the most stressful times of your life—but it’s also an exciting time of learning new skills. Many of us turn to veterans in our field to help us along the way. This support can extend beyond the classroom and clinic, if you take the opportunity to develop relationships with professors and clinicians.
For me, a career-changing mentoring relationship began when I was on the executive board of my school’s National Student Speech Language and Hearing Association (NSSLHA) chapter. As my term ended, our adviser encouraged me to apply for a position on the National NSSLHA Executive Council. I applied—and being vice president for academic affairs has been one of the best experiences of my life. Continuing my graduate career at the same university, I stayed connected with her—not only was she my clinical supervisor, but we have a shared love for NSSLHA.
She has guided me during my clinical experiences, has been a reference for me during my job search, and even nominated me for a university leadership award that recognizes outstanding participation in campus activities and performance as a graduate student.

Have a plan ready when you go to a supervisor/advisor with a challenge. Demonstrate that you have thought through the problem and come up with possible solutions—then ask for their feedback.

Who needs mentors?
In graduate school, we dive head-first into clinical experiences. Our clinical supervisors—each with a unique style and perspective—give us feedback to promote our growth and help us learn from our mistakes.
But students need this type of guidance beyond the classroom and clinic as well. Our supervisors and professors have years of experience to help us with job searches, letters of recommendation, choosing a work setting or population, weighing the benefits/challenges of competing offers, and entering a PhD or clinical doctorate program.

It’s always important to be respectful and professional, but it’s especially true in a relatively small field such as communication sciences and disorders.

Developing relationships
Throughout graduate school, I have had several mentoring relationships that were established for me—I was paired with a second-year grad student as a first-year student, and was paired with an ASHA Board of Directors member as a NSSLHA board member—but I have gained more mentors simply from my clinical experiences.
For example, in my last clinical placement, I did not know my supervisor at all. However, we developed a strong relationship through good communication and our mutual interests. I became more comfortable as we got to know each other, and I could turn to her with questions. I was looking for a job, and it was helpful to have someone to ask, “Am I doing this right? Should I do this?” Because of her invaluable help, I chose my clinical fellowship position at a nearby skilled nursing facility so that she could be my supervisor.
Find someone you admire who is willing to answer your most burning questions. For example, I asked my board mentor about professionalism tips, which helped me grow more confident in my interactions with other professionals. My graduate adviser and my ASHA Board mentor helped me prepare for my first ASHA Convention.
Let’s be honest, though. They are busy, and you can’t expect their guidance exactly when and how you want it. You have to seek it. This can be a stumbling block for graduate students, so here are some suggestions.
Communicate professionally. One of my mentors emphasized that I should always respond to an email—even if it’s just to say thank you or that you received it. If you don’t, the sender has no way of knowing that you received the message. No response can also appear unprofessional and unappreciative. At the same time, don’t hesitate to follow up with a recipient of your email if you haven’t received a response.
Own your challenges. As audiologists and speech-language pathologists, we learn to think critically about problems to come up with a solution, and we need to demonstrate that we can apply this skill in other situations. Have a plan ready when you go to a supervisor/adviser with a challenge. Demonstrate that you have thought through the problem and come up with possible solutions—then ask for their feedback.
For example, my clinical director recently let me know that I lacked sufficient clinical hours in specific areas. Instead of asking her what I should do, I offered some possibilities of how I could make up the time. She loved them! Because I was proactive, it was a quick exchange—easy on my director’s end—and I successfully met my hours.
Show respect, always. It’s always important to be respectful and professional, but it’s especially true in a relatively small field such as communication sciences and disorders. It reminds me of the small town I’m from: Everybody knows everybody, and a difficult reputation is hard to overcome.
Overall, establishing good rapport with supervisors in the field is vital to personal and professional growth. These are the people who will recommend you for a job, ask you to volunteer for committees in state and national organizations, and give you advice on your career.
The mentoring relationships I forged through my NSSLHA involvement have set me on the path to continue volunteering with ASHA as I transition from a student to an early-career professional. I know that if it weren’t for my supervisors, I would not be the person or clinician I am today.
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August 2018
Volume 23, Issue 8