Mentoring isn’t Somebody Else’s Problem

As part of my series on why I’m no longer in academia: mentoring is important. If are in the position to mentor and you don’t do it, you suck.

My partner didn’t just get mentoring from his adviser but from lots of faculty in his graduate program. The fact that Wesley is brilliant but lacks a certain social cluedness shouldn’t mean Wesley’s students don’t get mentored. Graduate students have three departmental committee members. Their job is to pick up slack in areas where they have strengths and others have weaknesses. Then there are all the other faculty that graduate students come into contact with through seminars, TAships, and departmental events. There are lots of mentoring opportunities there. My partner has publications that came from interactions with faculty who he had just happened to take a seminar with. Even though they weren’t on his committee, they took responsibility to tell him that his seminar paper could be publishable if he brushed it up a bit. Mentoring is everyone’s responsibility.

If you are faculty, you should be mentoring. You should take the opportunity of every seminar you teach to guide students towards publication or performance opportunities. We’re talking about stopping to care once a term: build it into your syllabus if you have to. At the very least, talk to students about publication and what they would have to do to make seminar papers publishable. Talk about where they might be publishable. If someone comes up with something that’s almost there but not quite, encourage them to brush it up and guide them through the publishing process.

Whether or not you are faculty, if you are established in your career and go to conferences, you can be mentoring people less established than you. This doesn’t mean that you have to take every student you’ve ever had under your wing 100% of the time when you go to a conference. And it doesn’t mean dragging students through a whirlwind tour to shake hands with everyone you’ve ever met. It means is that if you see a student, former student, or person you vaguely know who doesn’t look like they know anyone (probably a Wesley student) standing around at a conference at loose ends and not ensconced in a group of people presumably talking shop, you really ought to go talk to them. Introduce them to whoever you’re hanging with. Invite them to whatever meal you’re headed to next. This isn’t onerous and it expresses confidence in this person both to them and to whoever it is that you were already going to lunch with.

Yes, it would be nice if people’s advisers bothered to mentor them. But in their absence, everyone really ought to pick up the slack. It is not somebody else’s problem. If you value a person’s contributions to the field and don’t mentor them when the opportunity arises, you share responsibility if they leave.

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