Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Advice on Mentoring: Don't Talk about It

Karen offers excellent advice to job seekers.  Here's another thought. Whether young scholars are seeking an initial job or already have one, they need guidance about how to navigate the academy. At, Kerry Ann Rockquemore has launched a career advice column that may be of interest to job seekers, tenure-track, and recently-tenured scholars across disciplines.  Prof. Rockquemore's initial  post, "Don't Talk about Mentoring," is insightful. Here's a snippet.

[T]here’s a pervasive sense that mentoring is some mystical, uncontrollable, unpredictable relationship between senior and junior faculty on a particular campus. As a result, administrators tend to assume that the best they can possibly do is randomly match senior and junior faculty, encourage them to have coffee and hope for the best. If some people get "mentored" and others don't, it's O.K. because nobody has really figured it out anyway.
I'm going to not only challenge these assumptions but also suggest some different approaches to mentoring that: 1) start with an assessment of faculty members needs, 2) empower individuals to both maximize formal programs AND also construct their own networks of support, mentoring, and accountability, 3) democratize the "secret knowledge" that faculty members need to be successful, 4) rely on empirically tested strategies, and 5) respond to the core challenges faced by all tenure-track faculty.

[O]ur insistence on using the very word "mentoring" negatively impacts professors for two reasons: 1) the term "mentoring" means so many different things to different people that it’s meaningless and 2) using the all-encompassing term "mentoring" focuses professors on connecting with a person instead of identifying their needs. ... So instead of talking about “mentoring” and hoping that everyone means the same thing (when we know we don’t), let’s shift our thinking and our language to focus on two questions: 1) What do I need? and 2) How can I get my needs met?