Nearly Complete Lack of Mentoring

As part of my series on why I’m no longer in academia, I offer to you a well nigh complete lack of mentoring.

There were a few notable exceptions–I had an amazing mentor when I was an undergrad. I’ll call him Giles. Giles taught great courses. He was an amazing advocate. But he administered the undergraduate program so he didn’t work much with graduate students. If there had been anyone like Giles who I could have worked with as a graduate student, I imagine I’d have had a much better chance of getting an academic job–or any job, for that matter.

There was a professor who was hired right before I left graduate school who offered to try to hook me up at IRCAM. Unfortunately, he came along too late to do me any good. When I started graduate school, my partner and I had every intention of avoiding the two body problem. We were going to have a long-distance relationship so we both could have careers. We did, in fact, have a very successful long-distance marriage for years. Unfortunately, the increasingly draconian measures of TSA security theater have rendered that option nonviable. But that’s another post.

And there’s a faculty member–call him Percy–at Small Technical School who really has done his best. By all accounts I oughtn’t be his responsibility; I just happen to be someone in a neighboring discipline who came to town as a trailing spouse from another institution. But Percy is very community minded and really tried hard to encourage a strong intellectual community when he was hired at STS. He’s given me short term postdocs and invited me to give a few talks and performances. STS is institutionally pathological. Percy does good work and is under-appreciated. As much as I like working with him and appreciate his effort, I can’t handle being involved with STS anymore. That’s another post.

When I went to graduate school, I went because I thought I’d get mentoring. Sure, I knew there’d be courses and a dissertation and whatnot. But I figured that was gravy. I’d seen how other departments did things and it really never occurred to me that I wasn’t buying into the same thing. I really like my advisor (Wesley). He’s brilliant and fun to work with. I knew Giles was an especially good mentor and didn’t expect Wesley to be Giles. But I expected him to at least try. He didn’t. That’s the next couple of posts, because otherwise it’s simply too long.

But to skip to the punchline:

Lots of mentoring involves sharing oral tradition. These things are not written anywhere. People only know these things because someone told them. You know things because someone told you. If you know things and are not telling your students, you are cheating them. I’ve frequently had the bizarre experience of having people say I wasn’t doing appropriate professional development things but I’ve not been able to wring from them information about what these things might be. This happens a lot and it’s very frustrating because it tells me that a) there’s something I could be doing and b) no one will tell me what it is.

If you are faculty, do you find yourself thinking, “Gee, I wonder whatever happened to that promising student who doesn’t seem to be practicing in my discipline anymore”? If you didn’t mentor that student when the opportunity arose, there might be plenty of blame to go around, but some of it is all yours.

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