Posts Tagged ‘Mentoring’

A recent discussion on campus alerted me to the fact that mentoring has changed. Models with a single assigned mentor (or anti-mentor) are no longer preferred. Instead, everybody should have lots of mentoring relationships in which all partners mutually benefit. The result is “mutual mentoring.” According to the NEA’s summary, mutual mentoring involves:

  • mentoring partnerships that include a wide variety of individuals—peers, near peers, tenured faculty, chairs, administrators, librarians, students, and others;
  • mentoring approaches that accommodate the partners’ personal, cultural, and professional preferences for contact (e.g., one-on-one, small group, team, and/or online);
  • partnerships that focus on specific areas of experience and expertise, rather than generalized, “one-size-fits-all” knowledge;
  • a reciprocity of benefits between the person traditionally known as the “protégé” and the person traditionally known as the “mentor;” and
  • perhaps most importantly, new and under-represented faculty members who are not seen or treated solely as the recipients of mentoring, but as the primary agents of their own career development.

All of these things sound great! Who will be arranging these relationships for me?

That, apparently, is my responsibility. Here are “some good first steps to create a Mutual Mentoring network of your own”:

  • If your department already has a formal mentoring program in place, take advantage of it, but keep in mind that the mentor chosen for you, or by you, as part of this program should not be your only source of professional support.
  • Ask some key colleagues whom they think you should approach about your specific subjects of interest. Keep in mind that there are many different ways that you can “click” with a mentoring partner. Who teaches classes similar in size to yours? Who uses a particular classroom technology that you’re interested in adopting? Who seems like the best overall personality match?
  • Identify near peers (colleagues who are close to your career level). Near peers can be particularly valuable because their experiences as newcomers are still reasonably fresh. Helpful “global” questions to ask near peers include: What do you wish you would have known when you first arrived? What is the most valuable thing you’ve done in support of your teaching?
  • Look for mentoring partners outside the faculty ranks. A talented, tech-savvy student may help you navigate a new class management system, while a librarian specializing in your discipline may be able to recommend hard-to-find resources.

I don’t think that new faculty should shirk the responsibility of forming networks and I also recognize that some of these are relationships that many people already have being recast as mentoring, but there also seems to be a disconnect between people saying “we’ve recognized that the best way to be successful here is to meet a lot of people inside and outside of the institution who can help you in different areas” and following that up with, “good luck finding them!” In an ideal world, experienced faculty would reach out to new faculty (who are busy enough juggling teaching, service, and research), not the other way around. I guess that all junior faculty are in charge of changing the culture now.

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In addition to my own advice for faculty mentors, here are some recent posts on mentoring at every level of the academic system:

“‘I Just Do It’: Mentoring & Honoring our Undergraduates” by Trina Smith

“The Top Five Traits of the Worst Advisors” by Karen Kelsky

“Faculty Mentoring Faculty: Relationships that Work” by Maryellen Weimer

The first and third are from the perspective of the mentor while the second focuses on the perspective of the mentee (similar to my post on mentors and anti-mentors), though that can also be helpful for mentors who are trying to avoid screwing things up.

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Tenured Radical’s latest post states:

The other day I read a comment on Facebook to the effect that, after changing jobs, many academics experience a moment of intense regret. The author of the comment timed this moment of regret at about six months into the new job, when the losses and the difficulty of the transition becomes truly apparent.

Like her, I am not experiencing regret, but it have been noticing certain differences as I get settled in. In some cases, such as mentoring, these differences have given me an even greater appreciation for my former colleagues.

It is not that my new colleagues are particularly bad at mentoring, but one particular colleague at my former institution regularly went out of her way to ensure that I knew what was going on. Unlike mentoring undergraduates or graduate students, at the faculty level I think that successful mentoring is mostly about keeping new colleagues in your thoughts so that you can tell them when you have to do something that a new faculty member might not know about. An example of this is submitting final grades. When the end of the semester nears, a good faculty mentor will not only think, “I need to submit my final grades,” but also, “John might not know how grade submission works here, so I should stop by his office and show him.”

As faculty members it is easy to get caught up in our own grading, students, and deadlines. I think that successful mentoring of other faculty members requires an external focus that our daily work does not. Hopefully I will remember this if I ever get the chance to mentor a new faculty member myself.

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The mentoring that I received as an undergraduate paved the way for my entrance to grad school and my future research. The Council on Undergraduate Research has a publication devoted to the topic of mentoring undergraduate researchers, summarized at the Undergraduate Research Laboratory. Among the suggestions:

  • Actively recruit students
  • Work on numerous projects together
  • Recognizing your limitations as a mentor

None of these are groundbreaking, but they may be particularly helpful for assistant professors who are just starting out and do not have a large number of students that they would be interested in working with.

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When I started my first position as a full-time faculty member last fall there were obvious challenges related to preparing, teaching, and grading for three classes instead of one but the experience itself was nothing new since I had been teaching for years.  The introduction of advising to my routine this fall, however, has been a very different experience.

The first time that I taught I had years of experience as a student to draw on for examples of what kind of teacher I wanted to be.  Beyond my experiences with various mentors over the years, I am quickly realizing that I was never advised about choosing courses as an undergraduate because I had a copy of the graduation requirements and I knew what I needed to take.  Magnifying this inexperience is the fact that I am still learning about the requirements at my institution, which are sometimes fluid as courses in various departments substitute for others.

As a result, each meeting with a student has felt inefficient as I hurriedly searched for answers to their questions on the school’s somewhat ineffective website.  Through this process I am learning a lot but I wish that my education in these areas did not have to come at the price of looking incompetent and, worse, potentially directing students down the wrong paths.

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