Choose your Teammates: Mentors, Sponsors, and You

Mentors and Sponsors

Of all the people you will meet across your career, none are as important to achieving your goals as mentors and sponsors. But what are they, who are they, how many do you need, and how do you find them?


Mentors are trusted individuals who offer guidance and advice. They can be peers, superiors, colleagues, anyone with an experience you don’t have that you can leverage. An interesting thing about mentors is that you don’t always know just how much experience a person has that can be useful to you until you’ve taken some time to get to know them over a period of several months or years. Sharing your experiences often brings up insights into their own past experiences, and they can help you ‘see into the future’ by giving you a possible course of action (their own choices) and a possible outcome (their resulting experiences).

You can have various mentors for various different things. For example, if I am interested in research and academia, I might choose to repeatedly pick the brains of a friend who just started a career in academic teaching, and a post doc I see often who is pursuing a career in research. They will have different experiences and insights that can help me decide what path I want to follow, and suggest options for how to get there. There is no limit on the number of mentors you can have, but the quality of the relationship is worth more than the quantity. You are building a very real and practical career support group, and friendships to boot.

Mentors can be found through several avenues. They may already be in your network, as in the case of coworkers and supervisors. You may discover them unexpectedly, as in a friendship that strikes up due to good conversation on a plane during a long flight. Or you may seek them out, as in the case of intentional mentoring programs (such as the GradSWE mentoring program), or asking an individual with experience you are interested in for advice.


Sponsors are advocates, individuals who are invested in your success. These are people who will highlight your work, connect you to key individuals, and help you make the right moves to advance through your role and organization. For example, they could be direct supervisors, PIs, managers, or more senior engineers who are well established in the company or field.

You may not know all your sponsors, but you should know at least one in your workplace. Sponsors need to advocate for you even when you are not in the room, and thus by nature, you won’t always know who is willing to stand up for you. But you can always find individuals who you notice say and do things to promote the work of others, and those are the people you want to garner to sponsor you and your work as well. You can ask them directly to sponsor you, or your company may have a program that pairs you, or you might have a mentor that you work with that is also a really great advocate.

Do I need one, the other, or both?

Most would agree that you give your career the greatest advantage if you foster both mentoring and sponsorship relationships. The reason is because of the different roles they serve. It is not always appropriate to ask your mentor about specific organizational details at work that are important to your success, and likewise you may want to bounce ideas about work/life balance and job offers off someone who is not sponsoring you to advance in their organization. So in this case, don’t pick one, have both! Explore different options for mentors and sponsors, and find a few on either side who you have a mutual connection with that you can foster long term relationships, and who can help you get the most out of your career.


More Information

  1. Stanford University. The Key Role of Sponsorship. SLAC. Accessed 14 JAN 2019. <;
  2. Forbes Leadership Forum Contributor. Mentorship vs Sponsorship, and How to Maximize Both. Forbes.2 OCT 2015. Accessed 14 JAN 21019. <;
  3. Carpenter, Julia. Why you need a sponsor, not just a mentor. CNNMoney. 24 OCT 2017. Accessed 14 JAN 2019. <;
  4. Berhane, Sava. Why Women Need Career Sponsors More Than Mentors. Fast Company. 28 AUG 2015. Accessed 14 JAN 2019. <;
  5. Meyer, Eileen Hoenigman. Sponsors vs. Mentors: What’s the Difference and Why It Matters. Glassdoor. 31 JAN 2018. Accessed 14 JAN 2019. <;

Using Social Media for Self-Promotion

Hello Graduate community! I recently put together a YouTube video about self-promotion on social media platforms. Find the video here! Please find additional details for how to create & maintain your social media presence! For more questions or discussion on this topic, feel free to email me at or DM me on Twitter at @Carolyn_Chlebek


  1. Steps to creating your social media platform
    1. Setting up your profile
      1. If you have old accounts that are public and not so professional, be sure to delete them!
      2. Find a good headshot that can be used for your sites.
        1. Consistent branding is key, so try to use the replicate similar photos across your platforms
        2. Use your real photo so any connections you make will be easy to maintain when you meet in person
      3. Think about your Handle and Display name
        1. For those who have completed graduate school, consider adding “Dr.” Before your name. There is a push to do this and give you  more credibility & prestige.
        2. You can change these later, but if you change your handle anything you were tagged in will no longer tag back to you.
        3. Use your real name, or publishing name, so that you are easily searchable.
      4. Bio Suggestions
        1. List the institutions you are currently affiliated with, your research, passions, alumni, society-level positions, etc.
    2. Identify your Role Models
      1. Follow the institutions, departments, etc, that you are affiliated with
      2. Find someone with a feed that looks like something similar to what you want to create
        1. Look at who they follow – you can find quite a few people to start following right away!
      3. Look at large organizations related to your field and goals
        1. Watch who frequently retweets these organizations, and watch the retweets by the organization
          1. You can get a better idea of who the prominent members of these organizations are, and identify more role models as well.  
      4. Any science blogs or podcasts you read/listen to may have twitter accounts that will make it very easy for you to engage with their content and retweet it to maintain your own presence.
    3. Tag others effectively!
      1. Want to connect directly to a profile? This could be an organization, person, etc.
      2. Use the “@“ symbol
      3. This will increase your chances of getting re-tweeted, and then seen on new people’s home page.
    4. Use effective hashtags!
      1. Going to a conference? Be sure to add the hashtag
        1. Before, during, and after the conference, be sure to check out the hashtag to see who else is active on Twitter. You may discover events at the conference that you didn’t know about, or find new people to network with.
        2. These hashtags can increase your visibility.
        3. Often, these hashtags can go directly to the conference app and allow you to get together groups of people.
          1. Example: at WELocal Providence, I called for all RPI alumni to get together and those not on Twitter were able to see the post on the app.
        4. When tweeting at conferences, be sure to make the tweets useful for those not at the conference – include summarized messages, tagging individuals, and potential links for more information
      2. Creating your own hashtag? Use effective capitalization of new words to help people read it easier
    5. Maintain your social media presence, even in the most “boring” times
      1. Set a goal for yourself – example: Check twitter once every other day, and tweet once per week.
        1. Find excuses to stay active – tweet about interesting podcasts or articles you read related to STEM, about fun things you do to entertain yourself during boring experiments, department social events!
      2. Using media (images) will help you get more interactions on your tweets
        1. Be careful when tweeting presentations though – be sure that the presenter is OK with you sharing their data/slides on twitter. Some of it may be sensitive work that they do not want released to the public
        2. Also, if you are tweeting about outreach activities, be sure that parental approval was obtained for any pictures of children
    6. Remember, if you don’t self-promote, you will not be seen.
      1. Grad community runs spotlights on the grad students on our leadership team.
        1. Last year, I did not share or self-promote and only had 12 engagements on my the spotlight post.
        2. This year (with essentially the same post), I shared on Facebook and received over 300 engagements. I was able to connect with young students interested in STEM, old friends, and got more visibility within the SWE community.
    7. Now that your profile is all set up, be sure to add your handle to the following content:
      1. Presentation slides and posters
      2. Business cards
      3. Email signature
      4. Personal website/lab site/etc
    8. Note:
      1. Everything you like on Twitter and Facebook can appear on other people’s feeds
      2. You can schedule posts to maintain your brand even when traveling or very busy.
      3. You cannot edit tweets, so double check spelling and think about your tweet before sending it through
      4. Be sure to use twitter to engage with others! Not just for traditional self-promotion


Thanks to Dr. Kate Bradford of Johns Hopkins for sharing her presentations on Twitter


If you are a grad student in SWE, nominate yourself for a spotlight! We post this on our Facebook page and twitter, as well as our own blog. This will help your google search results increase and allow people to see how awesome you are!


Graduate Student Spotlight: Rita Matta

Graduate Member Spotlight

Rita Matta


Biomedical Engineering


Yale University


Rita is an all-around rockstar in SWE, and currently co-leads the Yale GradSWE group. Rita has taken the lead for collaboration with other diversity groups at Yale in order to promote diversity and inclusion. She has also planned professional development events and career panels to prep members for navigating life after graduate school and building career/academic networks.


Prior to Yale, Rita spent her summer vacations as an R&D intern at Covidien and Medtronic. Here, she was introduced to the field of industry, working in a biology and chemistry based group, and building her professional and research skills. Through these experiences and by working under a strong female PhD manager, Rita was aspired to pursue a PhD as well.


This fervor for promoting women in STEM continued at Yale where Rita has enjoyed attending local and societal SWE conferences. In 2017, Rita was awarded first place for her poster at the Region F Conference.


Rita is passionate about her bioengineering based thesis work, where she works with biomaterials to promote tissue repair post injury, highlighting the integration of cell biology and material chemistry. Additionally, Rita is inspired by her Principal Investigator, who is an admirable female mentor and motivator for Rita’s academic and professional success. Primarily, Rita focuses on observation of neural stem cell and vascular cell interactions and how the two processes, coupled, can be used to promote functional and sensory recovery post brain injury.


After graduation, Rita aspires to work in industry to connect engineers and biologists, integrating various fields similarly to how her mentors have inspired her to in the past and present.


Outside of lab, Rita enjoys outdoor activities including hiking, running, and traveling. She loves her cat, experiments with cooking, and enjoys quality time with friends.


rita matta

We have transitioned to our new website!

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We have transitioned to our new website!
On our website,, you can find all our permanent or static resources. Information on SWE membership can now be found here: Miss the FAQ page? It is now here: Details on setting up a new GradSWE group can be found at, and information on conferences can be found at
At, we will continue publishing fresh new content such as regular blog posts and GradSWE Spotlights!

As always, make sure to follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn, and make sure you are on our listserv!

Consider Contributing to WE19 in November!

If you have attended a SWE annual conference, hopefully, you have experienced the quality and diversity of sessions offered by the SWE community. Do you have experience or expertise that you want to share with your fellow women engineers? Consider getting more involved with this year’s SWE annual conference, WE19, by presenting a lecture, workshop, panel, or lightning talk. Your involvement is crucial to the success of WE19!

The deadline for submissions is March 18, 2019, so there is plenty of time to develop your own idea or connect and work with other SWE members to develop a session together. GradSWE will also be hosting an idea-sharing/brain-storming conference call next month for anyone that has an idea for a session or would like to get more involved. More details to come!

The WE19 Call For Participation has helpful information on what to consider as you develop your session and information on how your proposed session is evaluated (Title, Description, Learning Outcomes, and Speaker Qualifications).

Please contact with any questions or suggestions!

Thinking about New Year’s resolutions? Studies show setting specific goals may be more effective.

We have reached the year 2019 and some of you may be considering setting some New Year’s resolutions. As graduate students (myself included), we may be thinking about making some changes, such as increasing our productivity or making more time to socialize with friends. Making resolutions is very tempting at the start of year, and while many people decide to make improvements in their lives, studies show that only a few actually continue these changes towards the end of the year. Approximately 8% that is. And at least one third of resolutioners quit trying by the end of January.

Based on some articles that discuss New Year’s resolutions, it seems the problem lies in the fact that New Year’s resolutions tend to be very broad. For example, resolutions many of us may be considering include increasing productivity. This resolution is very broad and is missing some key ingredients when it comes to setting specific goals. A more realistic approach would be to use methods such as setting a “SMART” goal. Below is an example of how these strategies can be used to help you (and me) achieve goals we set for ourselves this year!

Ex. SMART Goal–Become a PhD Candidate and publish a manuscript.

S-Specific. My goals for 2019 are to pass my PhD candidacy by the end of the Spring semester and complete and submit at least one manuscript for publication by the end of the year. To increase my productivity and reach these goals, I will aim to spend 1 hour every workday reading literature or writing a section of my manuscript, and I will push myself to do this even if there are other activities I’d rather do.

M-Measurable. In addition to the “deliverables” mentioned above, I would like to set a weekly goal of 5 hours a week to work on my research proposal and manuscript writing. To accomplish this goal, I will schedule specific time intervals dedicated to research each week and keep track of my progress to reach my goals.

A-Achievable. My class workload has decreased this year, so I will be able to fill the extra time with research work, which allows me to achieve these goals.

R-Relevant. This manuscript will help me to obtain a PhD, so the goals I have set for myself this year are highly relevant.

T-Time-bound. I have set deadlines for the deliverables I hope to complete, as well as “checkpoints” such as completing sections of my manuscript and a rough draft of my research proposal. I will strive to maintain my new level of productivity this year and in the future.

A quick search online will reveal copious methods that people have used successfully to not only set personal goals but also to achieve them. So, instead of setting informal goals in your head that you will likely forget in the next two weeks, perhaps consider taking some time to reflect on dreams you have for the future and setting smart goals to get there!

Deadline TODAY: Graduate Programming Coordinator-Elect Application

Consider joining our team as Graduate Programming Coordinator-Elect (GPC-E):

The application is due TODAY (Monday, December 31, 2018) at 11:59 pm CDT (Midnight).

This position carries a two-year term (one year as coordinator-elect and one year as coordinator) filled by a SWE graduate student or recent Ph.D./M.S. graduate. The time commitment is usually 2-3 hours/week and is closer to 7-10 hours/week in the weeks before the annual conference. All meetings are through conference calls, except for the required annual conference attendance for both WE19 and WE20.

All applications will then be reviewed and applicants will be contacted in January.

If you have any questions please feel free to contact us at