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« Going on the market just after starting a job? | Main | Referrals for 'the professor is out' (or other non-academic job search services)? »

01/20/2023

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Wes Siscoe

When I was at Florida State as a postdoc, Lauren Willson and I started a program that we called the MAP Mentoring Program due to its connection to the MAP Chapter at FSU. We then received an APA grant to help kickstart similar programs at USC, USF, and WashU. The details of that project are here: https://bit.ly/3H2mxHc. For more info, feel free to reach out to me at rwsiscoe@gmail.com. Would love to chat!

2 cents

2 cents:
- A good mentorship program takes a loooot of time and energy to set up and it's very easy to run a bad mentorship program that hurts minorities. In my experience, good mentorship programs identify very specific and practically-focused goals in a way that usually isn't popular to both mentors and mentees, because it feels like imposing too much structure and limiting the kind of relationships that mentors and mentees can have. But the truth is that undergraduate students (or even grads) often cannot tell the difference between mentorship and therapy, and grad student mentors from marginalized spaces often start with a savior mentality that make them vulnerable to being taken advantages of, or in any case may be ill-equipped to set boundaries when mentees ask too much of them. The result is a wonderful first year running the program but subsequent quick burn-out. (Of course mentors can take advantage of mentees in all sorts of ways but it's somewhat better recognized so I'll just focus on the other direction.) Another thing that can happen is when one person expects professional help and the other expects friendship. The former might find the latter needy/unprofessional/annoying while the latter finds the former cold/critical.

- Aside from a formal match-making mentorship program, informal mentorship relations can also contribute to a job dossier. For example, the department can set up a number of DEI-related prizes with small (or even none) monetary rewards which students can put on their CV. Those who didn't receive the prize can still write about their involvement in these events. (That does remind me: teaching people how to write about these informal service would be a good idea.)

David Thorstad

I co-founded and co-organize the Open Student Workshops at the Global Priorities Institute. This is a four-day funded program for about 20 students from underrepresented groups in the field (typically early-stage graduate students). We're in our second year, so I don't have any great expertise, but I'm happy to chat and share ideas.

The APA and Daily Nous also maintain lists of similar programs if you're looking for people to contact. Many are well-established (i.e. PIKSI).

One thing (and I'm sorry to say this. I am *not* criticizing your decision to start a program, which I think is admirable) -- it might be important to draw a stronger separation between what will impress search committees and what needs to be done. This isn't about showing search committees that we care about underrepresented students, but simply about helping underrepresented students.

That matters, because underrepresented students sometimes begin with a lower level of trust in the intentions of their instructors, so if you put too much emphasis on career benefits in recruiting mentors you can end up with mentors who might give students a mixed or wrong impression.

If I could emphasize one thing in setting up the program, it would be this: money matters. Don't assume that your students can pay for anything related to the program (even a visa application fee, or a flight that you will later reimburse). Securing a good amount of funding early can help you to offer a program that students can afford to attend.

Bill Vanderburgh

Mentoring experience is a plus, not a requirement. DEI-focused mentoring, a bigger plus given the common desire in the profession to improve our diversity.

I would avoid creating something from scratch. Rather, join or partner with an existing program. That might be a Mellon Mays Fellowship program at your institution, a student success or identity center, or even the undergraduate Philosophy Club in your department. If nothing else is available, start a MAP or WIP chapter with others in your grad program, using their existing resources. (Your graduate school or the university's division of student affairs might be places to look for programs to connect to.)

The main reason not to do it all yourself is that the marginal value to you is tiny between participating and creating, whereas the workload difference is huge. If the goal is to improve your chances of being hired, invest more time in presenting and publishing philosophy--most importantly, on finishing the dissertation!--rather than on service activities. The other reason not to do it all yourself is sustainability: It would be better for such programs to outlast you, which is more likely if already-established groups are involved.

To anticipate an objection to the previous paragraph: Yes, the *discipline* needs to create more programs to invite diversity into the field. But that doesn't mean that the most junior members of our profession have an obligation to do that work for the rest of us, unpaid, while sacrificing their own interests.

Brianna Larson

Hi! This is an experience from undergrad, but I thought I’d share. Perhaps this can give you some perspective from an undergrad’s point of view. In any case, I hope helpful.


At my previous institution, I founded (more or less) an undergraduate philosophy club that prioritized uplifting underrepresented students. The university’s club had previously existed but fell off for a few years and, to my knowledge, was never a space dedicated to underrepresented students. A classmate and I recognized an overarching need in philosophy for spaces like this and thought it would benefit our university. When it started, we had three people. Of those three, I was the only one who could dedicate the time needed to establish the club and develop a “curriculum,” governing documents, schedule meetings, etc. I spent ~8-12 hours a week on this project when we first started. After we got into the groove of things, I spent ~4-8 hours a week on administrative tasks, club prep, etc.

At first, I wanted it to be as collaborative and decentralized as possible. This approach did not work. I thought giving underrepresented students (like myself) a space they entirely shaped would be nice. As it turns out, that’s asking a lot from already disadvantaged folks. Asking them to show up in a space where they likely know no one to help build an organization in a field that can be intimidating is more daunting than I thought it would be. So the decentralized approach was out. Perhaps this can work in other universities. What ended up working involved much more work from me, but it set the org up for (hopefully) mid to long-term success!

I created a reading/talking list for the first semester on Google Classroom. For the first few weeks, I would read a paper I found based on previous group discussions and group interests and ask students to read the article if they had time. If they didn’t, I had outlines and was prepared to give a mini-lecture and lead a discussion. After 3-4 weeks, I asked students to sign up to do the same thing. Students presented on topics they were learning about in classes, papers they were writing, and philosophy that they wanted to read but didn’t have time to read because other coursework took priority. When no one signed up, I would lead discussions, which was about 50% of the time.

Echoing what others said here, my main concern was making sure this wasn’t a group that would dissolve when I graduated. I did a little more intense peer mentoring with the new leadership team before I left and assured them that (1) if the group dissolved that it would be okay, and (2) if the group wanted to take things in a different direction than I was leading them then they should!

As a peer mentor, I proofread quite a few papers, was a sounding board for ideas, helped students build confidence, filled them in on opportunities to go to diversity programs (PIKSI, Pitt’s PSP/Open Doors programs, Rutgers' Summer Institute, etc.), and sent them undergrad CFPs for conferences and journals. Our most involved students expressed interest in grad programs (mostly in psych or interdisciplinary programs in phil + psych/cog sci/neuro), so I also fielded many questions about applying, researching schools, and how to get research experience, etc.

We had one graduate student get involved a year in (they were a Psych student and previous phil major). I received feedback from a few students that once a grad student got involved, they were hesitant to share and present for fear of being judged or "being wrong." Eventually, those feelings (so they say) mostly dissipated, but making the space 100% peer-led at first helped increase confidence and camaraderie. Overall, I think it was important to take time and build trust. Philosophy can be intimidating, especially for underrepresented folks. Building the community was difficult (and time-consuming) but once established, it was one of the best parts of my undergrad, and I hope others involved feel the same!

I hope this was helpful! I think it’s fantastic that you want to start a mentoring program. My capacity to do this work as an undergraduate was probably much different from someone who is in the middle of writing a dissertation, but it's probably not my place to make that call. Take my account as you wish. Good luck!

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