Editor’s note: The Mentoring Spotlight highlights the Society for Health Psychology’s Health Psych Connections program with experiences from mentor-mentee pairs and articles on effective mentoring. The Health Psych Connections program is open to all SfHP members at any career stage post-doctorate. For more information, visit https://societyforhealthpsychology.org/resources/connections/ .
Vanessa V. Volpe, PhD
Fall 2016 was a time of many transitions for me – from graduate student to early career professional, from a large research institution to a small liberal arts college, and from considering myself a “developmental psychologist who studies health” to a “health psychologist with a lifespan focus.” After completing my Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology, I began an assistant professorship at a small college that I was drawn to because of its unique intellectual and financial support for faculty research. Although I was grateful for the tremendous support and mentorship that my new colleagues provided, I was the only health psychologist in my department and was eager to speak to others in my field as I began this independent phase of my professional journey.
When I read about the Health Psych Connections program on the Society for Health Psychology’s (SfHP) website, I was excited to learn that there was a venue for the very type of brief professional mentoring experience that I was seeking. After submitting a request for a connection, Dr. Zeeshan Butt contacted me to talk about my request in the interest of setting up an optimal match between a volunteer SfHP member and me. I view the care taken to arrange and check in on these connections as a hallmark of the program. Through such efforts, I was paired with Dr. Stephanie Fitzpatrick, an Investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research and Chair of SfHP’s Health Research Council.
I was seeking specific early career advice regarding opportunities to collaborate on research regarding race-related experiences and health, and ways to bring health psychology research and courses to my new institution. I could not have been luckier to have had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Fitzpatrick, a leader in impactful federally-funded health research and a promoter of the vital role of research in the future of our field. While Dr. Fitzpatrick and I only spoke once, this conversation was instrumental in providing both the advice and the sense of community that I had been seeking. We brainstormed specific paths I might take at my liberal arts institution, discussed early career goals, and Dr. Fitzpatrick offered me further connections with her colleagues. Before long, I had communicated with five more scholars in the field. As a direct result of my connection with Dr. Fitzpatrick, I have received access to exciting new collaboration opportunities, early career advice regarding my research program and the involvement of my students, health psychology course syllabi, and the opportunity to be involved in SfHP as a member of the Membership Committee.
Through this opportunity, I have made strong connections with SfHP scholars that continue to grow. I am so grateful for Dr. Fitzpatrick’s warmth, advice, and willingness to provide me with multiple networking opportunities. Thanks are also due to Dr. Zeeshan Butt and SfHP for supporting the professional development of health psychologists. This experience has already made lasting impacts on my research, teaching, and service, and I feel so fortunate to be a member of this community.
Stephanie L. Fitzpatrick, PhD
I firmly believe that the success and opportunities I have had over the course of my career are due to excellent mentorship and networking. So, when Zee Butt contacted me about providing brief mentorship through the Health Psych Connections program, I was happy to help. Vanessa was seeking advice on how to start up her health psychology research program and course, as well as how to get more involved in the SfHP.
Vanessa has a particular interest in research on African American young adults and their reactivity and recovery from stressors, short and long-term coping strategies, and sleep. Although our areas of research do not completely overlap, and I do not teach, I was able to think of several individuals who may not only provide feedback on Vanessa’s research ideas and course development, but also become future collaborators. Specifically, I connected Vanessa via email with Drs. Pat Saab, Amanda Almond, and Qian Lu. Dr. Saab is the Chair of the SfHP’s Education and Training Council and also my former graduate school mentor. Dr. Lu is a member of the SfHP’s Health Research Council and Chair of the International Committee. Dr. Almond is an early career professional and member of the Health Research Council. In other words, I served as a node within the social network of the SfHP and helped Vanessa to connect to several other nodes within the network! It was cool to “pay it forward” and connect Vanessa like so many of my mentors and colleagues have done for me over the years.
Although I only talked to Vanessa once over the phone, her passion for her research, goal to bring health psychology to her liberal arts college, and eagerness to get more involved in the SfHP stuck with me. Recently, there was a call for new members for the SfHP Membership Committee and I immediately thought of Vanessa. Now she can become a node within the SfHP network. The Health Psych Connections is an important program that involves little time commitment, but can result in longstanding professional relationships and career enriching opportunities.