Thursday, June 08, 2006

Been thinking about mentoring...

I went out for cocktail hour (I just love to say that – and it’s true!) with my ex-Supervisor last night. I’ve been thinking a lot about her lately, since I recently wrote some fawning - and entirely heartfelt - remarks to be read at a reception honouring her that I had to miss since I was far away from Home City. We had a lovely hour and a half chatting, and had to tear ourselves away from each other because I needed to get home to a starving dog – otherwise, I think we’d have stayed there all evening. At the end ex-S expressed her hope that we will see each other a lot more often, and implored me to think of her not as my Supervisor, but as my friend and colleague.

Of course I’d like to do this, and I am slowly becoming more able to see her as a kind of equal. But this is easier said than done, even though last night, at our first post-PhD drinks date, we talked more personally than we ever have. I still catch myself calling her my Supervisor even though that relationship ostensibly ended seven months ago when I defended my dissertation. I call her when I need job advice, a course design confidante or suggestions on where to submit an article for publication. As she was during my PhD, she has been nothing but helpful and supportive – but also measured, experienced. It is that rare combination that I value so much.

I don’t want that to end. We need those mentor figures, and since I’m a bit rootless at the moment, I haven’t had the opportunity to cultivate a relationship with a senior faculty member that might function like that. Until I do, she’s going to be the stand-in – even if we are going out mostly just to drink wine and gossip.

She has me thinking about what it would look like to be a mentor, and not just have one. (I mean to really be one – not just in the transient, teacherly way I was to some students this past year.)Sometimes, during my PhD, I would express some dismay at the amount of, basically, volunteer time Ex-S spent on me as a student. She told me that it would all one day come out in the wash – I would supervise and mentor another batch of grad students, and that’s when I’d “repay” her. And I’ve remembered that, and from time to time tried to craft an imaginary mentor persona. It’s based largely on ex-S, with her exceptional blend of indulgence and practicality. There’s also a cup or two of a woman I worked with quite a bit early in my graduate studies. She showed me that the task of administration (she was Chair of a huge grad program then) didn’t have to be a pact with the devil – instead, it could be accomplished as a fiercely political advocacy for everything that is good about the academy, especially students.

It seems to me important to remember those mentors, given all the unethical shit we see go down in this profession – I saw more than my fair share of ethics violations in just nine months at a tiny university. It’s so easy to become cynical, and start to imagine smarminess and/or ruthlessness as our only viable options. Mentors like her concretize other ways of living this life.


App Crit said...

Now on. My diss advisor implored this of me, and I in turn of my former students. Impossible to realize fully, but it punctuates a rite of passage.

One of the challenges I'm facing in junior faculty life is becoming my own mentor. The practice at Mediocre U. is to appoint two faculty 'mentors' to junior colleagues. Foolishly I trusted them readily upon assuming this position, more or less expecting the same 'mentorship' that I enjoyed when a graduate. This, however, proved not to be the case.

One of the last bit o' wisdom my advisor gave me was: "Soon enough you'll have graduates to keep you distracted, and you'll be too busy to phone me." This was said in the best of humour.

Your mentor has given you a sterling example to follow.


Sfrajett said...

Feminist mentoring, or lack thereof, is one of my big--biggest--beefs. If women would mentor women, really mentor them, the world could be a changed place. But too many of them can't believe they've arrived enough to not see other women as a threat, and this hurts everybody. Your mentor sounds great, and that means you'll be great too. Carry on the good fight.

Hilaire said...

You are so right about feminist menoring, sfragett. I've always wondered about this - why don't people see that if their student or "mentee" does brilliantly, it reflects brilliantly on them and doesn't detract from them?

And, app crit, you've got me thinking about self-mentoring!