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01/13/2022

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Jake Wright

As a graduate student, I think my mentoring was quite good. As a faculty member, I would say that my mentoring has been almost nonexistent.

One of the things that made my graduate experience so good (and one I would encourage current graduate students to consider) was that I had mentors for a variety of different parts of the graduate school/job market experience. My dissertation advisor was a wonderful all-around mentor who taught me a great deal, especially about research and what matters to search committees. (Indeed, I credit him with the fact that I completed the program at all.)
A separate faculty member was a teaching mentor who made me a much better teacher. I had the opportunity to participate in a Preparing Future Faculty program, where I had mentors that helped me think about what I wanted out of academic life and how I could pursue those opportunities. They made me aware of opportunities I didn't even know existed.

My point is that no mentor can be *everything* to a mentee, and I benefitted tremendously from having access to a number of mentors with particular strengths that meshed well together and allowed me to grow as a professional. Even if a department has a good mentorship program, it can be useful to seek out other mentors to fill in gaps that no one person can be reasonably expected to fill.

By contrast, my current institution has basically no mentorship program for incoming faculty, aside from a general sense of collegiality and friendliness. It's genuinely a place where all doors are open, and that has been tremendously beneficial, but it's very different from a defined mentorship program, and I think our faculty suffers as a result—some more than others.

Timmy J

I'm a current assistant professor. I have not received adequate mentorship. But it's not clear what could be done about it. And I suspect my position is much like many other recent hires.

The problem is this: at the time I was hired, I'd already published more than literally everyone else in my department. And I'd done this while teaching a higher load than any of them ever had. My past publications count for my tenure case. So essentially from the day I came in, my tenure case has been in the bag.

There are still things I'd like to know---should I wait to publish this new thing/develop this new idea so that it can help with my next promotion? Should I apply for this major grant or that one? But the thing is, nobody more senior than me has a clue about such things. The full professors in our department got to where they are mostly by service and sticking around rather than by publishing their way there. And of course, they did this while having partners who stayed home to take care of the kids. So most of the things that actually are obstacles to my success (kid stuff) are things they've never encountered.

And it gets worse. Everyone above me has had exactly one job in their career: the one they have now. I worked at many many other places before coming here. So there are lots of things that strike me as odd about this place and this job that are absolutely invisible to my colleagues---they can't imagine things being different because this is the only things they've ever seen. So again, there are mentor-ish things I'd like, but nobody who might provide them.

Over time, as our profession adjusts to the new normal, perhaps this will change. But at the moment, it seems to me that outside tippy-top institutions, many of us will just find that the people who hired us are ill-equipped to serve as mentors in any serious sense.

almost tenured

I receive almost no mentoring whatsoever. I get observed teaching a few times a year, but there's either no critical feedback or it's relatively minor (add more color to powerpoints, remember to give trigger warning when teaching Nagel on death). I've received zero research mentoring, if only because the senior people in my department are not research active. I would have liked to received mentoring, but I understand it's not really possible where I am.

anon

My graduate school woefully underprepared me for the job market/professionalizing because many of the faculty hadn't been on the job market in decades and said thing like 'just focus on your dissertation'

anonymous forest creature

Recent-ish graduate (last 4 years) here. As a grad student, I received no mentoring w/regard to research. It was similar to "anon": just write the dissertation. I graduated having no idea how to publish a paper, despite being at a Leiter ranked department. I had teaching observations, but comments usually focused on niggling discrepancies about my presentation of the material rather than pedagogy; that, or suggesting that tiny things about my demeanor might alienate students. We had some job market prep but it was a little out of touch with the current market.

Now as junior faculty, I also have no mentoring besides asking questions of my chair, but they are very helpful. To be honest though, this bothers me less than not getting trained how to publish during my PhD. I care quite a lot about research and that lack of training is still bogging me down.

mentored and mentoring

My grad program had no formal mentoring, though I got advice from various faculty, including some not involved in my dissertation. Then at various jobs there was no formal mentoring, but at my first job an established philosopher really provided great informal mentoring. He was an expert in my sub-field so it was fantastic. He even connected me with a very important person in my sub-field who was a true mentor for me - in the sense that he has shaped my research career, as well as my manners and practices for helping others. Anyone who has benefited from me, has HIM to thank, really.

Seek Mentors!

One thing I'd urge people to do is to *seek* mentorship if they want it. Lots of people are willing to mentor but not willing to prioritize finding a mentee.

A Non-EMouse

I have experienced a huge variance between two bosses post-PhD:

(1) Narcissistic, with a tendency to turn any career-related discussion into a panegyric on how hard they had tried and a tirade on how they were underappreciated. Having found work-styles and ways of communicating that they said had ruined their career (and personal life) but were "the right way to do things," they recommended these work-styles to me. Sure, things hadn't worked out for them, but things SHOULD have worked out, if everyone else wasn't so unfair. At most, I learnt some ways not to be an academic. The problem is that there are loads of ways to not be an academic, but relatively few ways to be a good academic.

(2) Astute, helpful, and frank. "Here is what has happened when I have been on hiring committees. Here is some advice that I wish someone had told me. Here is what I think you are doing wrong in how you explain your research, participate in seminars etc."

My impression from my experience is that, with the right attitude, it's easy for more senior academics to be at least somewhat helpful. Just a few stories or blunt (but polite) words of advice can make a big difference. I really appreciate it, and I think other postdocs tend to do so as well. My impression is that senior academics tend to overestimate how much postdocs, adjuncts etc. know about being an academic. At least, they overestimate how much I know...

JR

Thanks for this topic, Marcus. I've actually been thinking about this lately because I've had experiences very similar to others in this thread. I'm junior faculty at a non-elite R1. Although I've known many kind and well-meaning senior faculty both at my graduate department and my TT employer, by far the best mentorship I've received has been from people just a few years ahead of me in the process.

The fact is that things have changed wildly in just the last 10 or 15 years, and especially toward the more recent end of that range. For instance, I had to fight with and then just ignore my dissertation supervisor on the issue of whether I should just focus on writing the best monograph dissertation I could, or if I should also try to publish something before getting a TT job. My current employer has a mentorship program. My mentor was not aware, for instance, that sabbaticals are not simply nice vacations, but that most universities expect people to do something productive during them. I would list some of the professional and academic norms and practices my senior colleagues were unaware of and combative about, but the misunderstandings are so insane and distinctive that I worry it would out me.

Most of the people I know who've gotten jobs at all but the tiniest colleges have had to become absurdly professionalized to get there. By the time they're in a TT position, most have published more and frankly better work than many senior faculty, taught at more universities to a more diverse student body, and have enough experience with teaching in general that they do not need basic mentorship. This doesn't mean there's nothing to learn from senior faculty. But if you've been in your position for over 15 years, are not especially active outside your city limits, and just hired someone with a real track record, they probably know things you don't about what it takes to have a good career in professional philosophy. So if I could give just one piece of advice to a senior faculty member in that position, I'd say don't try to force your idea of a good career on junior faculty. Let them have the career they want. And if they tell you something your department is doing isn't normal, they're probably right.

Mike Titelbaum

Two things about mentorship from my experience:

1. Many many departments and universities do not do a good, or even an adequate, job of making mentoring available. But—while I certainly don’t want to blame the victims here—I also think people who want and need mentorship need to get better at seeking out and utilizing mentorship opportunities. Many of the younger faculty at my university don’t even try out some of the great formal mentorship opportunities that have been put together for them, much less seeking out mentors who would be a good personal fit. Also, a mentoring relationship has to be a two-way street: if I’m trying to mentor you, I could really use some advice on what you’re looking for out of the relationship, and how I can best help you. (Among the many things no one ever taught me in grad school was how to be a mentor!)

2. I realize this is getting away from the specific request in this post, but just so I don’t forget: mentorship needs to be formally separated from evaluation. Perfunctory feedback from a teaching visit is unhelpful, but also might be just the right thing if the report from a teaching visit is ultimately going in your tenure dossier. Another example: Only recently has my department been appointing junior facult a mentor who’s not on their oversight committee. It can be difficult to ask frank questions of someone who’s ultimately going to make the initial recommendation concerning your tenure!

anon

FWIW, the best mentorship I've received and I am still receiving to this day is through the Cocoon mentoring program!

so thank you for that!

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