School Launches Mentoring Program

February 7, 2022

Career Services director Sandy Buchan and Professor Dwayne Butler launched the Pathfinder Program this fall to mentor Pardee RAND first year students and set them on the path for success.

Pathfinder augments and integrates preexisting peer-to-peer mentoring, dissertation mentoring through classes and clinics, stream lead and academic dean mentoring, and individual mentoring available at RAND.

By focusing on first-year students, Butler said, "Pathfinder helps students create a network of professionals to serve as guides through their Ph.D. journey and develop basic skills for becoming a policy analyst. The program provides a platform for Ph.D. candidates to develop as RAND policy researchers."

“Pathfinder helps students create a network of professionals to serve as guides through their Ph.D. journey and develop basic skills for becoming a policy analyst.”

—Dwayne Butler

Buchan said the program's mission is to help Ph.D. candidates lay out and develop an academic, social, and cultural foundation that will contribute to their successfully becoming impactful policy analysts at RAND and beyond.

"Our vision for the program is to provide people-centered support that is timely and prescriptive," she said.

Buchan and Butler put out a call for prospective mentors in the fall, thinking the program would follow a team mentoring approach, but more than two dozen RAND researchers — including three Pardee RAND alumni — eagerly volunteered.

The program encourages mentees and mentors to develop individual paths appropriate to each student.

Mentors set conditions for the final mentor program assignment of constructing a career plan. Mentors and mentees commit to a minimum number of hours per month to address the top concerns identified by prior first-year Pardee RAND students, such as navigating RAND in their early days, finding On-the-Job Training (OJT) projects, and identifying opportunities to broaden their professional networks.

Buchan added that the pandemic has also led students to seek a sense of community and belonging, which she and Butler hope Pathfinder provides.

Student Peggy Wilcox commented that the program has indeed been really helpful.

"I am awed by the experience and quality of the mentors at RAND who have volunteered with the Pathfinder Mentoring Program," she said. "My mentor is an incredible talent who has coached me through navigating career paths and helped me find On-the-Job Training which fit perfectly with my interests in both topic and technique."

The program also includes monthly events for group participation.

One recent program was billed as an "Industry Guild Day." Twenty student participants interested in learning about different policy fields joined the virtual meeting, which include breakout sessions hosted by researcher-mentors. Stephanie Holliday led the session on families, children, communities; Tim Marler discussed energy, environment, infrastructure; Zachary Wagner shared insights on global development; Jodi Liu (alum, cohort '12) talked about health and health care; and Cristina Garafola focused on security and defense careers.

One focus of Industry Guild Day was to encourage students to reflect on how their values fit into their career and life goals. As Holliday noted, “Values [should] be used as a life direction that serves as a guide and compass."

Previous programming addressed student concerns such as becoming a consummate networker inside and outside RAND, being a better mentee, developing the capacity and willingness to set goals and improvise, and building flexibility into their work, careers, and lives.

Professor Tim Marler spoke to the students on the topic of flexibility, noting, “It is possible to take 90-degree turns, regardless of where you are” in your career or life.

—Monica Hertzman