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Kyle Whyte

Marcus, I like this post. I'm not sure whether this has been discussed elsewhere (and it probably has), but, like teaching, mentorship can be something that faculty get thrown into with almost no preparation in their graduate school training or if their earlier jobs were in places where there were no graduate students (or the faculty never worked with graduate students). I think that the reason why poor mentorship, both individually and more in terms of mentoring "a community" of graduate students, is not felt to be morally blameworthy is because in philosophy we expect that no faculty as any training to do this, so expectations are extremely low. People assume that access to emotional and social support is not inherently part of graduate school. I really believe such support should be a major topic faculties discuss regarding how they approach mentorship. I bet some do, and I bet some departments are really on top of this. Then there are many others...

Matt DeStefano

Good post, Marcus. I've seen some fellow graduate students go to professors and relate their problems to faculty at my institution. They've generally been incredibly helpful and supportive. I think one issue is that the faculty simply don't know if the student is having a difficult time. In my experience, once they've been informed they are generally very understanding. Of course, there are the occasional faculty who simply aren't interested in students' problems and are not supportive at all.

Marcus Arvan

Thanks for your comments, guys.

Kyle: I agree with all of your points, especially the one about how people assume emotional and social support isn't inherently a part of graduate school. I think this is a part of a broader trend towards dehumanization in our society -- seeing our duties to people as limited by their roles (e.g. "it's not personal; just business"). I think this is a terrible trend, and that it's gotten really out of control. Have you ever thought, for instance, about how borderline offensive the term "human resources" is? As though employees are nothing more than that? Which of course is how people are more or less treated these days by their employers -- which is the problem. There is too much of a tendency to see others in terms of the roles they inhabit: as "graduate students", "job candidates", etc., oftentimes with seemingly little thought that there's a flesh and blood human being on the other end of that label. Anyway, thanks for bringing this up. I hope to write a post on it soon.

Matt: thanks for your comment as well. My experience was like yours. Once I sought out faculty, they were very supportive. The problem, though, is that many of us are taught or conditioned *not* to seek out help (e.g. out of fear that people will be judgmental). It took me, for example, about 3 years to marshal up the courage to do it. This is why I think there should be active outreach and mentoring programs -- because there are some who will just be too afraid to open up without it.


I started out my graduate career in a department that cared deeply about mentoring and graduate student well-being, and naively left to complete my PhD with a more prestigious supervisor. In many ways, that was the right decision, because my interests had simply diverged too much from the original department's. But I had a very similar experience to yours in my second institution: no one asked how anyone was doing. Amongst my fellow graduate students, there were cases of serious depression and mental health issues, sudden death in a family, divorces, and sudden caregiver status for ailing parents, siblings, etc. Many of these ultimately resulted in dropping out of graduate school, or extended medical leave. It was remarkable how little the faculty knew about what was going on in their students' lives, and how unsympathetic they seemed as a result. Perhaps they would have been more sympathetic if they had known. Perhaps if the culture had been more supportive, some of these students would have been more forthcoming about their 'private' issues. Instead, we (graduate students) all knew about each others' problems, and I felt that we shouldered some of the burden for each other. But it is amazing how much a simple practice - of taking the time to ask how someone more junior than you is doing - could have changed lives and improved the climate of the department.

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Education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity.

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