Why Intercampus Mentorship?

In recent months, we have occasionally been featuring guest blogs by participants in the Rackham-CRLT Intercampus Mentorship Program. [Edit 5/13/16: The mentorship program ended in 2016, but that need not prevent graduate students and postdocs from setting up highly beneficial mentoring relationships on their own.] In this post, Alicia Hofelich, a recent graduate of the Psychology Ph.D. program, writes of the many personal and professional benefits stemming from her experience in the program.   

Alicia Hofelich

By the time I finished my fourth year in grad school, I knew two things for certain. One, I loved teaching, and two, I had to go on the job market next year. The latter certainty terrified me:  what’s the right next step? How do I successfully navigate the world of research post-docs, teaching post-docs, tenure-track, non-tenure track, and visiting positions?
Having graduated from a small liberal arts college, I had envisioned my ideal future self as a professor at such a college, teaching interesting classes and still being active in research. But as the reality of the job market approached, I realized I had no idea what that job would really be like or what it would take to get there. I knew the Rackham-CRLT Intercampus Mentorship program would fulfill a requirement for my Graduate Teacher Certificate, but it also ended up filling in a lot of questions I had about life as a liberal arts professor and how to survive on the job market.  
I met and had lunch with a professor at Oberlin College, and later came back to campus for a longer visit, where I met with other professors, toured their research labs, and gave a talk to undergraduate students. Some of the best things I gained from this experience:
  • I could ask my mentor questions about work-life balance at a liberal arts college, how had she and others handled job searches with partners/spouses, and family life as a tenure-track professor. I really valued the opportunity to discuss these issues openly, as they are taboo topics on job interviews. 
  • I was able to see the research labs and the type of work that could be done at a liberal arts college. I learned about the types of equipment they used, the resources available for subject pools, and money for research and conference presentations. I could ask questions about the time they had for research and the expectations for tenure at an institution other than U of M.
  • I talked to my mentor and other professors about the challenges they faced when they started out teaching. In the year since graduating, I too experienced many of the struggles they described, and was very thankful for their advice.
  • I was able to ask what post-graduate experiences would be looked upon favorably at a liberal arts institution, helping me put teaching post-docs, research post-docs, and visiting positions into perspective.
  • I was able to practice my job talk, and got feedback from my mentor and others from my ideal target audience about my work. It was a great opportunity to get non-evaluative feedback from outside my lab and department.
Overall, my experience in the Intercampus Mentoring program gave me the opportunity to explore what life could be like on the other side of a liberal arts college classroom. I gained a wonderful mentor, extended my network of professional contacts, and most importantly, reinvigorated my drive to pursue my dreams.
More information about the Rackham-CRLT Intercampus Mentorship Program--open to any U-M graduate student or postdoc--can be found on the Intercampus Mentorship website.