Friday, October 01, 2004

Mentoring, pt 1

Mentoring, pt. 1

I wasn't planning on blogging, but realized a comment I was leaving here at profgrrl's blog was really a blog entry itself. The subject of mentoring comes up fairly frequently, and the more I teach and look for a tenure-track job, the more I realize how lucky I've been. Today, I'll focus on undergrad mentoring and how good it can be.

Except that I lost my post. Damn.

Ok, so I was really lucky. As an undergrad, I went to Beachy U, where there were two big names in my field (and others, too, but I'm concerned with Ancient and Medieval here). FOr reasons still unclear, although I expect that it had something to do with the fact that I was bright, interesting, and clueless, I was summoned to the Names' weekly grad student office hours at the end of my junior year. Just me, the names, and a bunch of grad students who joked about how the Names held court, and how we lowly peons (yes, mixed metaphor) attended or else. Those grad students were amazing. They accepted me into their group (or a subgroup of the non-cutthroat ones did. I got to learn about grad students in long distance relationships with professors at other schools, grad students who had dated and broken up and still worked together, grad students who got together and knew they were condemning themselves to an abysmal job search, and grad students who just refused to put their personal lives on hold. I learned even more about patronage than I had in my Rome classes. I learned the importance of blowing off steam without going so far that I couldn't get up and study in the morning. Most of all, I learned about collegiality firsthand. Even before these people submitted their chapters and fledgling articles to their seminar group, they talked things over with each other. They shared sources and ideas. They helped me organize my senior thesis!

Meanwhile, the Names talked me into applying to grad school. They helped me in applying. They wrote me letters. One even suggested I apply to his alma mater -- they had lots of money. I wish now that I'd asked for more suggestions, but that one was enough. I got the 4-year ride at Semi-Southern U, and a whole lot of funding above and beyond the call of duty. My grad student friends sent me off with a lovely gift, and I'm not sure what I ever did to deserve them. I am in touch with a couple of them, and know people who know others, but am sorry to say I lost track of others between grad school and research and marriage abroad. I constantly hope I'll see them at conferences. The Grad U hooked me up (no, not in that way) with a student a year ahead of me and, when I arrived, he brought me into the fold of older students. But that's another story.

If nothing else, that experience has taught me the importance of being a mentor. I hadn't realized how much until I read profgrrl's post, though. It's also one of the things I cherish most about my teaching at a community college. I have great opportunities to get to know my students well, I get to write letters of recommendation, and I get to talk to them about eventual plans for grad school and warn them about the realities while letting them know I'm behind them, if that's what they want. What I hate is that I only get them for the first two years, and then, they're gone. Or not. Two of my students set to go to Flagship U this fall got deferred, so they're coming to me to check in anyway. I just hope I'm providing them at least a bit of the help and support I got.


Anonymous said...

I met my mentor in the second semester of my fresher year. It was a course on popular culture in early modern Europe; it was the first time I'd done early modern history properly, and I didn't realise you could do so much in that period that wasn't either about kings and queens or huge-scale economic processes (The Cheese and the Worms was on the reading list. That book is to blame for much of what I've been doing ever since). We hit it off straightaway. He kept giving me these really good marks and saying wonderfully encouraging things! As a third year, he invited me to departmental seminars that were normally for staff and postgrads. Later he became my PhD supervisor. He's written references for me since I was first applying for post-grad study (the ones I've seen make me blush). He passes on juicy gossip. Now he's my post-doc mentor. He means a hell of a lot to me, and I've been very lucky to know him.

There are other people too from along the way, I hasten to add. But Michael is special. I only hope that I can be half as good with my future students.

All of which is just to say, I couldn't agree more about the importance of good mentors...


~profgrrrrl~ said...

I think you're right ... it is important to remember to, in turn, be a mentor. Thanks for sharing this.

And I think I'm going to email my undergrad mentor. Although I'm in an entirely different field now, she really helped me believe in myself and my abilities...

New Kid on the Hallway said...

It's great to read stories of good mentoring. I had to laugh about the grad students as mentors b/c that was a lot of my grad school experience - relying on more advanced students' wisdom and trying to pass it along myself if I could.

And despite my own (frequent!) complaints about mentoring, I have had some wonderful experiences. Thanks for reminding me.

Anonymous said...

I never had a mentor. I think most people don't. I can see how different things might have been if I had had one.
Claire 17th-century/news

Another Damned Medievalist said...

That's just sad. It's not like mentoring is a modern concept, after all. I don't know how it is in the UK, because the PhD program is so different there, but I'm glad that it seems to be more the case, here. Upon consideration, I don't know how true that is. Since most of the people I deal with pretty closely are Ancient/Medieval people, it might be that my view is narrow. What about other historians? Economists? Psychologists (I get the feeling there's a lot of mentoring there, unless you're a Lacanian)? People outside the Social Sciences?

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