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04/29/2013

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Anon Grad

Hey Matt,

It sounds like your list is more tailored to undergraduate mentoring, which is to my mind a much more simple, commonsensical matter: be supportive, be informative, etc. Grad mentoring, on the other hand, is much more complex, and Zombie's experience reflects that of many grad students: they are surrounded by faculty who may be luminaries, but who have absolutely no time for mentoring. For grads, this involves such things as:

- 1-on-1 reading courses,
- publication advice
- assisted networking (i.e. if you're a faculty member and you know a bunch of famous philosophers in a grad student's AOS, introduce them!)
- conference invites (a school outside the top 20 that I know has faculty who take grad students on trips to various conferences/workshops at which they are speaking... at other schools it's as though no-one has even heard of this practice)

...etc. This is all much more time-consuming and difficult than undergrad mentoring, I think, which is why you may not see as much of it.

Justin Caouette

I second Anon's post. Undergraduate mentoring is quite different from graduate mentoring and I suspect that Matt’s experience is indicative of that. I too had great mentoring at my undergraduate institution and I would evaluate that mentoring a bit differently because of the considerations raised by Anon.

With that said, I often chalk up a lack in mentoring skills to the profession. Most philosophers, and this is obviously anecdotal, seem to be socially awkward (not all, for sure). They may be tied in via their work but don't know how to break the ice for their graduate student nor do they see it as part of their job. Their job, as it has been explained to me by some, is to provide guidance so that you can produce the best work that you can. Maybe this is why the 'assisted networking' point doesn't happen for some.

Regarding 1-1 reading courses, well, that just seems like a thing of the past (unfortunately), at least for many schools facing budgetary problems (most outside the top tier--which is most). I did have a couple when going for my M.A. but it seems, in the wake of expanding course loads and shrinking office staff, that those opportunities will be more difficult to accommodate so it wouldn’t be fair to measure how good a mentor is based on how accommodating one is to a 1-1 request. This requirement, as with many, will be context sensitive.

Conference invites seem to be a good measure of how fond your adviser or mentor is of you, but not how good of a mentor he/she is. It's one thing to give great feedback to a student you don't think is particularly good (required IMO of a good mentor) but quite another to introduce that same student to your peers (not required). I wouldn't consider an adviser who doesn't assist with networking or fails to invite his/her student to conferences to be a bad mentor per say. Though, if the student is good, I may think a bit differently. But, then again, we might be back to the awkwardness point once again. Maybe the adviser, being the awkward philosopher that he or she is, just doesn't know how to properly invite.

So maybe a good mentor for those in graduate school is one that gives you the best feedback on your work as it develops. Or, have I just lowered my bar in light of the awkwardness that seems pervasive in the discipline? I'd be interested to see the perspective of others regarding the social awkwardness I speak of. It's quite possible that I'm the awkward one in the discipline and everyone else is a social butterfly (I'm VERY skeptical of this).

I think I have been lucky, first with my undergraduate mentor (Aeon Skoble), then at Washington State with Joe Campbell and Bill Kabasenche and now with Ish Haji at the University of Calgary. However, I have many friends who have not had the same experience and we often chalk it up to the awkwardness I referred to. Thoughts?

Matt DeStefano

Thanks for the feedback, Justin and Anon. I definitely agree that my experience is indicative of undergraduate mentorship (after all, I was an undergrad!). I was more curious about what was expected out of a good 'mentor' at a graduate level, and didn't mean to cast doubt upon anything that Zombie said.

At the graduate level (a terminal MA), I have some great experience with mentors as well. Berit Brogaard has been fantastic, both in giving extensive feedback on my work, letting me be a co-author with her, introducing me to people working in my (our?) area at the Pacific APA and other conferences, and is certainly open to 1 on 1 readings.

Marcus Arvan

Matt: a really great question to ask, but a difficult one to answer!

My feeling is that there is probably no single recipe for good grad mentorship, as different people need different things. Some grad students need more guidance, others flourish better *without* much guidance. Some need mentors who are "hard" on them, others don't.

So, as disappointing as it might seem, I guess I would say good graduate mentorship is kind of an individualized thing. A good mentor is one who sees each grad student they mentor as an individual, and attempts -- given their experience in the discipline -- to help put that person on the path to success.

Or perhaps that is a recipe of sorts. Good mentors are simply those who extend their professional expertise to each individual graduate student considered *as* an individual.

The question then is: if this is right, how does one recognize a good mentor? To this, I guess I would say: look at the results. If the person has a lot of students succeed and flourish, chances are they display this kind of individual concern.

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