GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Author Archive

Leaning In: Against the Haterade

In Uncategorized on 2014/01/29 at 22:44

I’m going to offer a few reviews of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and this first one is going to be a sweeping overview of the entire book. There are specific chapters that I want to speak to as well, but first I’ll do a review of the book and the Lean Inmovement. In order to get access to the Lean In circles, er… movement, you have to join the site via Facebook, which is of no surprise given that Sandberg is the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook. I say this in both an honest and tongue in cheek way, as I know that the Facebook metrics are working away analyzing users use of the Facebook platforms and various add ons.

The Lean In site offers anecdotes from different women who are members of Lean In and they each share their stories of times in their life when they leaned in. The members are mostly women and some men from different backgrounds (race, class, and work sector). What they share is an inspiring story about a learning experience or successful moment in their lives—either at work or in their personal lives. The anecdotes are concise. There are also videos that vary in time and some are quite lengthy (40 minutes long). I’ve enjoyed poring through the site and reading and watching the different stories. Some feel like testimonies and are quite personal, whereas others read like a motivational speech.

Getting back to the book, Sandberg is asking that women own their skills and success. Try to sit at the table; overcome the imposter syndrome. But, she also warns that we will have moments when we must work together and help others. This isn’t  book about selfishly helping yourself or being selfless. This book offers her personal story about when she had to lean out and focus on family or other issues in her life, or moments when she leaned in to get to the next stage in her career. She refers to statistics, feminism, and important stories as she shares her truth. She also acknowledges that some women (and men) will stay at home and do the important work of raising children, so she gives a nod to the parents who choose to stay at home and does refer to this opportunity as a privilege. I was glad to see this reference, as it is a privilege to stay home. Of course, some women are indigent and at home, but the opt out conversation is often lacking any discussion of class privilege or mention that women of color have been leaning in for years, if not decades and that their leaning in is complicated by racialized sexism.

On a side note, I’m really tired of the reviews and commentaries that are published by a commentator who has not opened the book. Not cool. And I am not keen with the haterade against the book based on the fact that Sandberg is a wealthy, Jewish woman. The review needs to say more than simply attacking the messenger. The book is not perfect, but Sandberg offers some great points that many of us need to hear again and again. I cannot represent all Latinas and know that I have class and heterosexual privilege, but I will say this: there are many takeaways from this book. It is important to believe in yourself, network, make smart decisions, invest in yourself, and help others. Mentor, coach, sponsor. Get mentored, sponsored, and coached. There is more to this book and so-called movement.

Victoria, British Columbia in Canada.

Janni Aragon is a Senior Instructor of Political Science in the Department of Political Science at the University of Victoria. She is a blogger at University of Venus and her areas of interest are varied: Gender and Politics, Women and Technology, American Politics, Feminist Theories, Youth Politics, and Popular Culture. Currently she is working on a co-edited Introduction to Women’s Studies textbook and when she has time, she blogs at http://janniaragon.wordpress.com/

Re-evaluating My Relationship With Student Evaluations

In Janni's Posts on 2013/04/23 at 01:17
Janni Aragon, writing from Victoria, British Columbia in Canada. 

Most universities use student evaluation forms as a means of measuring student satisfaction and teaching effectiveness of the instructors. What many do not know is that most instructors have a like and dislike relationship with the official student evaluations. For contingent faculty, the evaluations are crucial to keeping their jobs. The evaluations are an easy means for a department to let you go, noting, “Well, your student evaluation numbers are really low.” Furthermore, we all know that there is such a large pool of adjunct faculty ready to get a class or pick up an additional class in the quest to attempt to make ends meet. This is an important issue and I recall feeling that the student evaluations gave me that opportunity where I had to prove that the department made a good choice in offering me some courses, when I worked part-time at two to three college campuses or departments.

Anecdotally, I have heard from many faculty that they never read their student evaluations and others note that they wait until the end of the year to review them. I scan the statistics at the term’s end or the end of the year. If I have time, I might read the qualitative comments. You see, I get the statistics emailed to me, but I have to request to get access to the folder of qualitative comments, which means that I do not look at them often. When I started a new team-taught course, I read the qualitative evaluations immediately to assess what the students were thinking. But, usually I review the qualitative comments as I prepare my dossier for a review or some other official process. And, I usually dread reading them, as the one negative comment will stay with me for the next hour or day.

As part of a recent nomination for a Teaching Award, I had to update my teaching dossier, and I just reviewed 18 months of statistics and qualitative comments and I have to say that my relationship with the student evaluations has changed. I cannot even believe that I am typing this, but I found that the both the statistics and qualitative comments tells me exactly what I already knew: I am an effective instructor. From the qualitative comments, I read that some students really like me and a few students do not like me or the assignments. Some comments brought tears to my eyes: students deciding to major based on my course or that my help in office hours made them not drop out of the program or university. I read that I was making a difference in and outside of the classroom—that I should have clones; it was a validating experience to read pages of these comments. Sure, some noted that I require too much reading or writing and I always expect some to make those comments. The statistics also noted that across the board 82-100% of my students enjoy the courses, assignments, my availability, and the overall course. Those are statistics that I can happily live with and add to this the great, hilarious or constructive comments and I feel satisfied with my teaching.

Now, we all are aware of the websites that comment about instructors and I will not name them. Those websites really find the fans and haters making comments and possibly doling out a chili pepper to an instructor.  I do not visit those sites anymore, but going forward, I will make a point of asking for my qualitative comments the same day that I get my statistics.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Honesty As a Resolution

In Janni's Posts on 2013/01/29 at 04:35
Janni Aragon, writing from Victoria, British Columbia in Canada.

I was chatting with a friend and she asked what my New Year’s Resolution was. I paused and thought about how I do not really believe in these sorts of things, but then realized that my resolutions are formed in late August or September, prior to a new school term starting. Last year my resolution was to continue to make mentoring my mandate. This school year my resolution was for honesty. Now, this honesty works both ways. I mean to continue to offer my honest, helpful comments to my students, mentees, and graduate students who I supervise or coach as my Teaching Assistants. But, it also means that I expect honesty.

What has this meant this last term? I have not responded to emails that crossed the line. I have set up face to face meetings with colleagues or students who sent the email to discuss the matter at hand. Life is too short to not communicate clearly and if I have the opportunity, I would rather clarify an issue face to face. This policy has worked like a charm. I have felt clarity with an honest conversation where all parties really come from a place of “I” and not “you”. I think I have to thank the Human Rights office and the two committees that I have sat on for the last year and a half for the foresight and tools to make me a better communicator and also expect the same from my students and colleagues.

In terms of my blogging and social media visibility, this has also meant that trolls exert no power or emotional energy for me. I am not saying that they took up that much space before, but now they take up zero space. I easily ignore them and move on, and this is quite freeing. I have used this place of honesty as a way to forge productive energies. I do not think that trolls are practicing honesty. No, the keyboard warrior is actually a coward. I have previously heard that I am blunt or brutally honest, and I think that these assessments have been fair. However, I do think that this resolution of honesty is different for me and my interactions with students.

I no longer circle around comments and waste time trying to not offend and choose my words ever so carefully. I offer constructive, honest comments and if this means that I state, “This is not your best work. This is sloppy work. You did not review my syllabus closely.” I will say it. I have said it. The reactions from students have varied and I know that one student thanked me profusely for my honesty. His next two assignments were stronger, and during the holidays he sent a nice thank you note. I was clear that he had not submitted his best work and that I expected more from him. I have told my mentee that I expect her to participate more in class—that she does not get a free pass—no favoritism. Guess what—she started talking more. I raised the bar, and many students responded with better work.

Sure, there was a student or two who noted something to the effect of, “I’ve never had a professor be so forward or speak to me this way.” My response was that I was sorry that no one had taken the time to be honest. I do not live my life by the students’ comments on sites about professors—see I won’t give them a shout out. I prefer to see the student do well, try harder, and graduate. I am not in the department to make friends. I am mentoring students and this includes honesty.  The year is halfway over and I will continue on with my resolution of honesty.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Managing Your Time Effectively

In Janni's Posts on 2012/12/01 at 02:40

Janni Aragon, writing from Victoria, British Columbia in Canada.

We all have our tricks with time management. Some are effective and others have the appearance of helping you manage your time, but might just make you think that you’re organized. I don’t have any easy answers, but I will share how I manage my time effectively. I first have to thank a colleague for insisting that I establish boundaries for getting work done. About four years ago, Dr. Matt James politely encouraged me to shut my door. Not a week doesn’t go by that I don’t thank him for this simple suggestion for effective time management. It was really hard for me to shut my door and establish this first boundary.

We were both working as Undergraduate Advisors at the time and were chatting about all the time that advising can take. He smiled and said, “I have a suggestion for you–you should shut your door to get work done. Don’t keep your door open when you don’t have office hours.” Now, this wasn’t new advice, but it resonated with me differently given that I was three months in to my first full-time tenure track job. I thought that if the Chair of the Undergraduate Committee was encouraging me to shut my door, then maybe I should. Previously, I’d d had a mostly open door policy, but prior to that I didn’t have the same expectations for advising, teaching, and extensive committee work. My job security increased, but so did the demands for my time.

Related to managing my time effectively, I also keep an excel spreadsheet for all the family members and the respective activities that we are all engaged in Monday through Friday. On Sunday nights we review all our calendars and make sure that we are all in sync, as this saves lots of headaches. Now, back to my work schedule, I have taken to scheduling my lunch and work out times directly in my schedule so that no one can book appointments during this time. Many of my colleagues and those in administration use Outlook, so sure enough people can see when you’re busy and when you’re available. By booking my lunch hour or workout time (even if it’s at 6 am or 6 pm, I’ve made an appointment for and with myself. Yes, this is time for me. I am going on six months of making a concerted effort to not eat at my desk or in my office. I am going outside to eat, to a colleague’s office or even to the larger lunchroom downstairs. This way I am away from a screen and actually enjoy a break away from the computer screens.

I also schedule in writing time or thinking time, too. I do this to protect my time, as otherwise I might not have the time to do so. It also offers me that precious 15-59 minutes to think about the project. As academics there is always something for us to read, review, grade, and write. We have the luxury of flexibility (allegedly), but the job is often with us. That nagging to do list hovers in the backdrop.

How do you manage your time?

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Watching “Girls”: On HBO and On Campus

In Janni's Posts on 2012/09/17 at 20:58

Janni Aragon, writing from Victoria, British Columbia in Canada.

As a feminist educator, my academic and political training influences my popular culture consumption and my assessment of what I have consumed. “Girls,” a dramedy written and directed by Lena Dunham, who also stars in the HBO cable television series, is no different than any other popular culture artifact in that I do not have the ability to turn off my feminist educator lens. I read all the controversy regarding how the show was monochromatic with an all-white cast of lead actors, who have famous parents—ergo they all have race, class, and education privilege. The hating began early on for the series.

I watched the first season for multiple reasons, but primarily got sucked in when I read in different places that “Girls” was today’s young women’s “Sex and the City” (SATC). I was first aghast—nope, that is not correct–SATC pushed boundaries regarding women’s sexuality. Women wanted sex. Sure, the show wasn’t exactly diverse in terms of race, class, and sexuality, but it made up for some of this with its entertainment value. Wait, a minute…perhaps I should watch “Girls” I thought. I watched the series and at times laughed, cringed, and thought lots about my women students.

The more I thought about it–this comparison between “Girls” and SATC is not off base. The Internet Movie Database (IMDB) descriptor blurb about “Girls” states, “A comedy about the experiences of a group of girls in their early 20s.” The IMDB descriptor for SATC reads slightly different, “Four beautiful female New Yorkers gossip about their sex-lives (or lack thereof) and find new ways to deal with being a woman in the 90s.” Sure, the women in SATC are older, more established within their careers, but for all intents and purposes—there are similarities between the two shows. We see how girls, er women, are educated and told that they can have it all. You could be a Carrie or Hannah and be convinced that your writing reflects your generation. Your relationships are common—that is they are healthy, unhealthy, abusive or you might not have a relationship. Both series offer us a look into the lives of educated women, who have real moments that are cringe worthy.

Our four heroines: Hannah, Marnie, Shoshanna, and Jessa are trying to find themselves—just as Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda were trying to do so. These eight women were all told that they could have it all and that they could be anything that they wanted; however, the series demonstrated that this is not easy. It is hard to interview for a job, to ask to get paid at your unpaid internship, to have a good, healthy sex life, and to find support from your family and fictive kin. Yes, these women seem clueless and narcissistic at times, but this is realistic. Your twenties is about finding yourself: career, love, life, and more.

Watching “Girls,” I often thought of my students in their twenties and what they have to look forward to after graduation. I am usually thinking of the average students who have not prepared well and have thin resumes. Is this their future? I do not see my students as misfits with low self-esteem, but I only see one aspect of them in their lives. Perhaps my students also feel like they are flailing, failing, and working hard and have few prospects. I know that many of them are scared about their futures, and this includes male students. I have to wonder that there are some grains of truth in “Girls” and that your average, white, middle-class girl nods her head as she watches an episode.

The tag line for the series is: “They are living the dream one mistake at a time,” but I wonder what I can do as an instructor, and as a mentor to help my women students be better prepared, and perhaps make less mistakes.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.

Mentoring and Coaching Reflections

In Janni's Posts on 2012/07/26 at 21:04
Janni Aragon, writing from Victoria, British Columbia in Canada.

Earlier this school year I wrote about mentoring as part of my mandate for the year, and now that my school year is ending I have time to reflect on how this worked for me and my students. I work with lots of students. In previous years the number was close to 1200 students per year. This last year, I had a teaching release and taught more than 900 students. I am also an Undergraduate Advisor, which means that students can potentially get lots of face time with me.

I did a few things differently this year. Some students I mentored, and mentored actively, while others I tried to coach. Let me first talk about the active mentoring. These are the students who were strongly encouraged to submit a paper to an undergraduate journal or to another publishing opportunity. I also was hands on with my honors student and think that we worked together well. I had another honors student who I was the second reader for and I decided that I would not do him any favors if I did not conduct a close reading of his thesis. I consequently had more than 45 comments on his 100 page document. None of this was meant to put any of the students through the gears, but rather to help them submit their best work.

I even signed up one mentee for Social Media Camp, so that she could have another venue to present some of her research about SlutWalk. This opportunity will expand her network. I am also emailing colleagues around town and trying to connect my students to them. These connections have led to some ad hoc work opportunities and more. I continue to write letters of reference and help students assess graduate school or other post-graduation opportunities much like any other advisor.

The students that I coached were typically of a few varieties—new students who were trying to figure out how to maneuver the classroom and university experience and more advanced undergraduate students who needed less direction. In a similar way, I treated the graduate students in more of a coaching capacity as I continued to let go and give most of them more autonomy with the tutorials that they lead and the workshops that they ran. It is hardest for me to wrap my head around letting go, as I feel such a sense of responsibility for a great learning environment for the first year students. Some of the Teaching Assistants really want the opportunity to do more, but others really are not interested in doing anything new or different. Then, there are others who are not really ready to do this sort of work and these graduate students can cause the most work for an instructor. The graduate students who appear less than eager to facilitate, learn, and offer some semblance of flexibility are definitely the ones who I do not want to work with again. This might sound harsh, but I take my coaching seriously and I also realize that the Teaching Assistants are an integral part of the first year teaching team.

My mandate in the department is to work closely with undergraduate students, and I consequently spend more time with them by virtue of teaching only first through fourth year courses. I get to see the students straight out of high school through their graduation and I find that their mentoring or coaching needs vary. I try to remember this and offer my particular skills when they need or want them. I cannot mentor or coach half of them, but the ones who seek me out or take courses with me really is the pool of potential mentees. While mentoring was my mandate for the last year, I have come to realize that it will continue as something that I do.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Emotional Labor

In Janni's Posts on 2012/05/18 at 00:57

Janni Aragon, writing from Victoria, British Columbia in Canada

I sat on a pedagogy round-table at the International Studies Association in March, and one of the speakers referred to the high cost of emotional labor for the Women’s Studies instructor. Many heads nodded around the room. I do think that emotional labor does not discriminate and that many women faculty, faculty of color and other marginalized groups put in more time with emotional labor. Anecdotally, I perform as much or more emotional labor in Political Science compared to my years in Women’s Studies, but this might be influenced by the fact that I am an Undergraduate Advisor. Now, I know that some readers will agree and a small number might comment, “Show me the data.” Well, there is a genre of higher education literature dedicated to women in academe and other groups noting this phenomena. I am certainly not the first or last to speak to emotional labor.

Last year my teaching observation date was slated for a lecture on violence against women. I had already given the class a trigger warning via email and verbally noted that the array of readings might trigger emotions from students. My colleagues sat at the back of the class, while I lead lecture and facilitated discussion. I ended the class about five minutes early and thanked everyone. The reason for ending the class early was that a student was in the back of the class quietly crying. We chatted and walked back to my office. I will say that I had the appropriate office numbers nearby so that I could give her the referral. This was not the first time in my teaching career that I’ve dealt with this issue and had to help a student in need.

I’ve accompanied students to the police department to report a sexual assault and listened to students explain that the readings or discussion in class triggered old memories for her or him. This is part of the emotional labor of the job. Granted for some students, it’s not issues of violence, but issues related to coming out, finances, a bad break up, eating disorders, and more. My degrees are not in mental health, so I know that it’s best if I listen and then make a referral. Here is the thing – I had never attended a professional development seminar about students and mental health until I was more than 10 years into my career! I am not qualified to help the students with the array of issues that they might have, but I can listen and then find the right person or office that can help them.

Now, thanks to my role as the Chair of the Academic Women’s Caucus, I sit on more committees than I care to count and I have had ample opportunity to go to workshops related to mental health, inclusive work environments, dealing with difficult situations, and other important issues. I do feel better prepared for these moments and here I am, mere months from celebrating my fifteenth year teaching. What I long for though, is more honest conversations about emotional labor in our work. I also want more training on how to deal with the weight of emotional labor, as it is a heavy burden to carry some days.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Do You Manage Technology or Does Technology Manage You?

In Janni's Posts on 2012/04/04 at 00:12

Janni Aragon, writing from Victoria, British Columbia in Canada

I have prided myself on the early adoption of new technologies in my work and personal life. A good majority of my research has examined women and technology. From a practical point of view technology allows me to connect almost immediately with friends, colleagues, family, and students. This is a mixed blessing.  I know that we all lament how, thanks to email, we have expanded this notion of work and working hours. I thought about managing technology when I read Liana Silva’s blog post about work and guilt. I looked in the mirror and thought that her thoughtful commentary was about me, too. Managing time and technology surely adds to the guilt discussion. Is technology making me a workaholic? I managing technology or is it managing me? Am I saving time by my use of my smart phone and my tablet?

I certainly use my host of technology in the classroom, for office hours, and beyond. But, the weight of this electronic umbilicus is at times more of an electronic manacle. I have taken to scheduling writing or grading time in my Outlook calendar, as this allows me work time, and I manage getting scheduled into meetings. The good news is that I love my job and my career, but I know that it is not everything. I’ve been thinking a lot about Heather Menzies and Janice Newson’s article “No Time to Think” and No Time by Heather Menzies. I know that we have all heard about how academics’ work practices have changed a lot, thanks to technology. The Menzies and Newson article speaks to this and made me uncomfortable as I read it. They were definitely talking about my work life. I have also heard  a colleague or two refer to smart phones as the tool of neoliberalism rebranding the university landscape. Academics are prone to wax poetic, no?

I read work-related emails during the evenings and weekends. I do not want to walk into work to a hundred or more emails. This might surprise many, but I do think it works for me. One issue though, in this smart phone world is that students have gotten to expect this. It is not uncommon for me to get emails an hour or two apart with a student inquiring if I got the previous email. They might know my schedule and assume that since I’m not teaching I can effortlessly reply to their important query immediately. This last holiday I noted that I was getting more advising emails from students on Christmas Eve. I made a point of not responding for a few days—as it was a statutory holiday that I was celebrating.

And, yes, I am known for often responding to emails within minutes or hours. But, it does not always happen. Have I unleashed a beast? Perhaps this explains why my partner is asking me to unplug more. One thing that I started last Fall was not working late on campus 2-3 days, instead I do this 1-2 days a week. The upshot is that I’m home more this school year. This means more family dinners together, which is a great end to the day with my family. The cost is that I often work for a few hours in the evening and like most academics, I still work for a few hours during the weekend.

Gen X scholars remember the good old days of doing research in the library and scouring for books in the stacks, and feeling a sense of discovery when you found a really good book next to the book that you were really looking for initially. What were the good old days of technology? Have we increased the work day with our efficient smart phones? I ask this as my smart phone plays music and my tablet is open with Twitter streaming. I rely too much on either to get rid of them, but maybe I need to willingly unplug more.

Menzies, Heather and Janice Newson. “No Time to Think.” Our Schools, Our Selves, v16, n3 Spring 2007: 99-104.

Menzies, Heather. 2005. No Time: Stress and the Crisis of Modern Life. Toronto, Douglas & McIntyre.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.

Administration Ambitions

In Janni's Posts on 2012/01/21 at 02:06

Janni Aragon, writing from Victoria, Britsh Columbia in Canada.

I have something to admit: I know that I eventually want to go into administration. Please continue reading! I realize that within higher education there is often this us vs them mentality. It is us (instructors, graduate students, support staff and more) vs. the at times faceless, nameless enemy, the administrators. We are the 99% on campus and they constitute the 1%. But, I have to admit that during the last few years, I have had lots of conversations with colleagues and family about what I would do if I had an administrative role on campus. We academics talk lots, and part of this talk includes constructive comments and perhaps even some criticism. I partake in these conversations, but I always get to the part of “what would I do to fix this.” And, my sense of justice and desire to mentor students has meant that I want to go into administration in a role where I will help students or oversee student issues.

My first paid job was as a tutor. I continued tutoring throughout my undergraduate days and as a Graduate Student, I found the Teaching Assistantships rewarding. It is no exaggeration to say that I probably love teaching more than I did in 1998, when I taught my first class, but I also have come to realize that there is work to be done in administration. We also need more women administrators and I know that the only way to change this is to actually take the leap and go into administration. I have no desire to stop teaching, though. I also know that there are certain units in campus that I have a natural inclination toward.
One of the best parts of my job is the repeated opportunity to mentor students. I find that I can mentor in the classroom, but the really priceless moments take place during my office hours. My office hours as an Undergraduate Advisor in the Department of Political Science offer those teachable moments for me and my students. When I saw the posting for the Associate Dean of Academic Advising, it looked like a perfect fit for my skill set and desire to help students on campus. I am not going to lie; right before I clicked send my heart was fluttering. I sent my dossier and hoped for the phone call—the one that informs me that I made the shortlist. I got the phone call and my interview is next month.

The reaction by some co-workers has been surprising. A few were surprised that I would entertain having an administrative role and leave the classroom. One remarked that it is unfortunate that good instructors (reference to reputation and university evaluations) go into administration. I understand the unease, but think that a university needs people who want to go into administration and these people should enjoy teaching, mentoring, research, and service.

The interview is in early January and my fingers are crossed. But the reality is that if I do not get the position, as an Undergraduate Advisor, I will work closely with the new Associate Dean to support projects to improve advising on campus. Either way, the good news is that the committee perused my dossier and shortlisted me. The next time there is another administrative job that is in my area of interest, I’ll apply for it.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.

Finding a Mentor

In Janni's Posts on 2011/11/12 at 22:45

Janni Aragon, writing from Victoria, British Columbia in Canada.

I am in year one as the Chair of the Academic Women’s Caucus on campus. This includes all women faculty (all streams and part or full-time, as well as Librarians, who are tenure-line faculty). As I have noted elsewhere, I have made mentoring a major mandate of my leadership on campus in this position, and my philosophy in and outside of the classroom with students.

My tenure in academe has included countless supportive mentors and I know that I am an anomaly. Sure, I have had the occasional less enthusiastic or unhelpful mentor, but by and large my mentors have helped me get to where I am today. And, I thank them for this. Advice that has served me well with mentoring is that honesty is the most important part of the working relationship. You need to trust your mentor and mentors need to trust their mentees.

I have found that some of my best mentors in graduate school were not actually other political theorists. These mentors were in other sub-fields, so my advice to undergraduate and graduate students is to not disregard faculty because the research fit is not perfect. I established the start to a great mentoring relationship based on my work as a research assistant for the faculty member who ultimately became my dissertation chair and I was coming from Mass Political Behavior and Political Theory and her main area at the time was International Relations and Environmental Politics, broadly speaking.

During the summer, I had an email exchange with this mentor, Dr. Juliann Allison. In brief:

I asked: Did you have good mentors?

Juliann: Yes, at the time I thought so, but maybe not so in retrospect. My mentors consistently “trained” me to succeed as social/political scientist, rather than as a happy and fulfilled person. As a result, individuating as a scholar was much more painful for me than I trust that it is for my own students.

She made a germane point, as we often do not discuss the reality of the job: it does not entail a 40 hour work week. There is always a paper to write, read, mark and other work to tend to as an academic. We usually do not share long conversations about the climate of the job and this can do a disservice to graduate students and junior faculty.

I also asked: What is your mentoring philosophy?

Juliann: I’m not sure that I have one unless it’s to be clear that there are two ways of looking at the problem of academic “success” in higher education: 1) marketability and job placement and 2) knowledge/learning and life satisfaction. In the best of worlds, both occur.

My mentoring philosophy varies, but like Juliann’s it is a combination of helping the student reach goals and for love of learning. Unlike Juliann, I work mostly with undergraduate students so the mark for success and job placement is at a different level—scholarships, co-op positions, jobs, and entrance to post-graduate programs.

I find that occasionally I have made a special point to mentor some students and I asked Juliann if she has done the same.

Juliann: Yes. I mentor far more students than the relative few on whose committees I serve. I also look for those students who are engaged in international work or research, social movements, and women. And, I am also interested in mentoring students who are doing applied research.

I benefited from peer-to-peer mentoring. I was part of a women graduate students peer mentoring group and this probably is the cause for my mentoring focus. I asked Juliann if she engaged in any peer to peer mentoring or if she sees this taking place at her current institution.

Juliann: Peer to peer (well, senior-junior faculty and advanced-new graduate student/honors student) mentoring is institutionalized here. I believe it works very well. In my own case, I was mentored by a senior biologist via the women’s faculty group during my pre-tenure year and the Chair of Women’s Studies was incredibly helpful.

Juliann spoke to how mentoring does not end. Women faculty will continue to need to mentor and seek out mentors, as well. I am very lucky to have a great mentor in my current department as well as other faculty around campus. But, I realize that I am lucky. I asked Juliann if she’s had any unsuccessful mentoring experiences.

Juliann: I guess the tendency of “my” students to leave graduate school might be a kind of failure; then again, in the sense of their figuring out what they really wanted to do via our conversations could be a success. In addition, I’d consider the women who eschew gender-oriented mentoring early on as initially unsuccessful. They simply refuse to see that there is still a “boys club” in political science.

I think that Juliann’s points are worth another blog post or two, but I will speak to the first point. I do think that it speaks to a successful experience if a student figures out what is best for him/her and if this means leaving the program, so be it.

One thing that I continue to tell my former students—mentoring does not have an expiration date. It is indeed part of the mentor/mentee relationship and my hope is that they will in turn mentor someone.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.

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