Posts Tagged ‘Professor’

In my current transition between graduate student and faculty member I am experiencing a brief summer vacation that may be my last.  Sure, I have lots of work to do in preparation for the fall semester (not to mention that ASA presentation I keep forgetting about), but I don’t have to get up particularly early and I don’t have to work more than a few hours a day until I get back from ASA and I shift into full “teaching” mode.  Of course, there will be plenty of times in the future that classes are not in session, indicating “vacation” to many of those in my family, but I will likely just transition into “research” mode during those times, since teaching three courses a semester are likely to prevent much research from getting done when classes are in session.  These thoughts on “academic” versus “normal” definitions of vacationing were brought on by a recent PHD Comic:

Indeed, though my family will likely imagine me spending my summer “vacation” getting up around noon and lounging by a pool, margarita in hand, vacations from students do not equal vacations from work.

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In addition to being flexible, another lesson I have learned from an anti-mentor (people who have mentoring styles that cause you to vow never to mentor students in that way) is that students’ time is valuable.  As such, they deserve a professor’s full attention during meetings.  Professors should not check e-mail or answer the phone during meetings.  Finally, if a student wants to arrange a meeting, professors should do so rather than telling the student to “stop by during office hours” when there is likely to be a line of students waiting for a meeting because they were told the same thing.

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In seven years as a graduate student I’ve had a lot of time to think about what makes somebody a good mentor.  I’ve even served on committees for the purpose of awarding good mentoring.  Since I started teaching, I’ve also had a few opportunities to serve as a mentor myself, both to my own students and to incoming graduate students in my program.  I consider myself lucky to have had excellent mentors throughout my academic career, which I hope will continue when I begin as an assistant professor in the fall.  These excellent mentors have instilled in me beliefs about what mentors should do.  For example, whenever a professor and a student (graduate or undergraduate) are meeting for food or (non-alcoholic) drink, the professor should pay.  Unfortunately, my graduate student salary has prevented me from acting on this belief with my current mentees, but I plan to start doing so as soon as I get my first real check.

Even more than my mentors, however, I have developed beliefs about what mentors should do based on my anti-mentors.  Female Science Professor has discussed anti-mentors in the past, but my conception of the term is different.  While she describes anti-mentors as “people who actively try to discourage you, but not out of kindness or wisdom,” I think of them as people who have mentoring styles that cause you to vow never to mentor students in that way.  I’ve mentioned a particular experience with an anti-mentor before.  At times over the years, I’ve watched his interactions with his students and felt glad that this early experience led me to avoid him.  While his mentoring style is very hands-on, I prefer somebody who can provide advice when I ask for it along with gentle nudges to keep me on track.

In this way my dissertation advisor is a perfect match.  When I met with her on the day that an early draft of a dissertation chapter was due but had not completed the draft, she didn’t reprimand me.  We talked about a few other things and then I left, promising to send her the draft soon.  I left her office feeling like I had let her down, despite the fact that she didn’t seem let down at all.  Without saying a word, she motivated me more than a stern lecture from the professor above.

Comparing my mentor and anti-mentor, I am struck by the fact that the most important aspect of mentoring appears to be flexibility.  The anti-mentor is the type of person that you describe to incoming graduate students as “a great mentor… for those who prefer his mentoring style” while my dissertation advisor can be described as “a great mentor.”  While she uses a hands-off style with me, meeting as needed, there are other students with whom she meets every week to provide hands-on feedback and support.  Students need different forms of mentoring and, especially in a small department, professors need to work to provide what they need.  Of course, without the anti-mentor I may not have realized this.  I suppose that stern lecture did me some good after all.

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