Follow Up To An Open Letter to My Undergraduate Adviser

In a previous post I shared my experience of a mentor at the University of Nevada, Reno. Although I didn't receive guidance through the formal systems in the educational system at the Psychology department at UNR, I did fill that gap with another system. I'd like to share that here after receiving feedback from a close colleague of mine, Mark Malady, who pointed out that I left out the other half of the story. Thanks, Mark, and here we go. 

Mentorship Models: An Alternative Adviser 

There's a spectrum of teacher-student relationships out there from the ol' lecture and listen format, with anywhere from 30-500 students per class, down to a 1:1 session with a teacher. After running into a hard time finding out how I could blend my high school passion of basketball with my newly discovered interest of behavior analysis I wasn't really sure where to begin. However, I knew a behavior analyst - ONE - my teacher from the last course. 

Erick Dubuque. I used to roll in with maybe 30-seconds to spare with my long board, fresh out of bed some 3-4 minutes ago, and he'd cover a topic in Principles of Behavior by Dick Malott. It was the first time that I was consistently on time for an 8 o'clock class that didn't really have a strict on-time requirement, I was performing well in the class, and I was surprised at how into the content I was...

I reached out to Erick a few times via email - he replied back with some opportunities to pursue using the science in practice at various different local businesses tied into UNR.

Practicum sites - the first time I heard these words, and damn were they weird...

I pay someone to work?! Is this a real thing?  Well, I guess it's my only option!

Regardless of the model (that's a whole different conversation), it definitely was the right choice and I never would have been able to tell you how it would end up impacting my professional and personal life. 


Persson-Centered Assessment Training and Habilitation (PATH) was an adult day program that served adults with intellectual disabilities. Most people served were receiving 1:1 services related to intensive behavioral needs, with individualized goals that centered around learning new skills or maintaining current skill sets. I spent two and a half years at PATH working in a total of 3 different roles, but it was a bit of a miracle how this happened. I had to complete 9 hours per week to receive my credit for my practicum, and all I had available in my schedule was 9 hours a week. Sounded great, until one day in week 2 I was told that we were overstaffed and I wasn't needed. 

Ryan: "Wait... What happens to my hours?"
Floor Manager: "I dunno." 
Ryan: "..." as I walk towards the door. 

Mark Malady, MS, BCBA

Just as I was about half way down the hallway a gentleman popped out of the hallway and asked me what I was doing. Now, he didn't have the missing lens (I stole that from facebook), but it perfectly exemplifies his character. He asked me what I was doing, to which I told him I was going home because I wasn't needed, and he replied with "meh, come here." 

I wouldn't have listened to him normally, but he caught me off guard and I knew that he was working with one of the people served that required a little more training due to the intricacies of his programming. I spent a rigorous 4-hour session with Mark as he trained me and tested the skills that I needed to be able to provide the service that the person served required. Seems pretty typical for our field, but it was a rigorous behavioral skills training model that had me working hard. 

Towards the end of the day, he asked me to stay with the person served while he stepped out for a moment. I was extremely nervous - it was the first time that I was directly responsible for working with someone in any capacity in my life, and I felt as if I didn't know what I was doing. (This was before I knew what a good behavioral skills training approach taught you, rest assured I was beyond prepared) He came back into the room with Melissa Nosik, then MS, BCBA (now PhD & BCBA-D alongside Jim Carr, PhD, BCBA-D at the Behavior Analyst Certification Board [BACB]). Melisa introduced herself and we all proceeded to have a conversation around assuming some more responsibilities immediately. 

An Alternative Moel

What transformed was a blended model between three different "advisers" in a mentorship model.* 

  1. Erick Dubuque - Erick helped me develop a way to assess different graduate schools in a very objective way and worked with me on developing a few different project ideas. I don't recall finishing them, but it was really useful because I learned what went into a "side project" in behavior analysis and used that knowledge as a foundation to finishing a whole lot of other projects in the future. 
  2. Melissa Nosik - Melissa helped me learn how to consume literature, translate it into practice, and introduced me to the beginning understandings of how to network within our field and who did what. I owe my beginnings to networking to her - I've taken that along with some guidance from others in the field to open a lot of doors in mine and my colleagues' career. 
  3. Mark Malady - I'll likely continue sharing stories about how Mark has helped me int he past. We've spent some 7 years exploring the science together in various capacities... At one point we lived together, worked together, went to graduate school together, and worked in Josh Pritchard's FIT Fishlab together.  It was about 20 hours a day that we spent together learning about the science. Mark taught me how to create individualized solutions for people who were receiving behavior analytic services and how to measure the effectiveness of the service while at PATH. Well, the beginnings of how to do that. Independently translating what you're learning in school is definitely a learned skill, and my time spent with Mark at PATH was the beginning of that process. 

*All three helped me explore the UNR coursework sequence and the perceived strenghts and weaknesses of various graduate programs. 

Although it wasn't the traditional advisory model, it worked. So well in fact that when I looped back in with the University of Nevada, Reno's adviser (which was someone new that was this time extremely knowledgeable) I was told that I had to take a couple extra classes because I met all my requirements without hitting the mandatory credit limit for graduation. Needless to say I explored an additional 12 credits my senior year when I thought I was only going to have a 6 credit workload haha. They turned out to extremely useful, but that's for another blog post.