I recently had the opportunity to reflect on the ways in which my experiences being mentored in academia had influenced the way that I currently mentor students at my university. I was applying for an academic mentoring workshop through the William T. Grant Foundation, and (as a part of the application process) was asked to reflect on my mentoring experiences and what I had learned from them. Though I conduct research on mentoring and am highly committed to being a good academic mentor to my students, I realized that I hadn’t spent much time reflecting on the ways in which my experiences being mentored had shaped my values and actions as a mentor. Moreover, the process of reflecting on what had been most critical (and in some cases, transformational) about these relationships (in essence, what caused them to positively influence my personal and professional development) reminded me of the things that I want to be most intentional about when I mentor. It occurred to me that this type of reflective activity could be useful for anyone who serves a mentoring role. Thinking back on our experiences being mentored can remind us of the things we most want to do (or avoid doing) when we mentor. Also, we could share these reflections with our mentees as a way of connecting with them and getting their feedback. If we are not having the type of influence that we would like to have, we can ask our mentees for suggestions on how to better achieve the things we value in our relationship with them. I have included my reflections below. Fortunately, I was accepted to the mentoring workshop and will attend next month. I will be sure to share what I learn from the workshop, so stay tuned!
I have benefited from some outstanding academic mentoring relationships to date. All of the academic mentors I have had have differed from each other in significant ways and each has influenced the way I currently mentor students. My first academic mentor was my senior thesis advisor when I was completing my undergraduate degree. Though she was an incredibly brilliant researcher and is responsible for introducing me to the world or research, the most important thing I learned from her about mentoring was how to treat one’s mentees as equals. At the time, I was a young mother experiencing a great deal of financial hardship. As a result, most of my experiences with adults were tainted by a sense of moral condemnation and negative assumptions about my character and intellect. My thesis advisor, however, embraced me as an equal from the very start of our relationship. She engaged with me as her academic counterpart and in this way, communicated her belief that I was capable of successfully completing an individual research project under her guidance. As a result of my mentoring experience with her, I strive to neutralize power hierarchies in my relationships with my mentees and regularly communicate my respect and esteem for them. I find this especially important in my mentoring relationships with members of marginalized groups who may be less accustomed to being treated with the dignity and respect they deserve in academic settings.
From my graduate school mentor, I learned how to prioritize one’s mentees. My graduate school mentor was incredibly over-committed as the chair of a department, head of a research center, and PI on numerous grants. Despite all of his many commitments, he always made time for his mentees. He always was available to meet with me, responded to my e-mails within reasonable time frames, and consistently returned drafts to me within a week’s time. This responsiveness increased my productivity. Further, realizing that I was a priority to my mentor motivated me to produce top-quality scholarship. Based on these experiences, I work to actively prioritize my mentees by always making time for them regardless of how many commitments I am juggling.
My mentor during my post-doctoral fellowship taught me the importance of mentors as connectors. In addition to being an outstanding academic, my post-doctoral mentor possesses vast knowledge of the inner-workings of academia. In addition to supervising my research, my post-doctoral mentor invested tremendous energy helping me learn how to cultivate an academic career (including a focus on issues specific to faculty of color), network, navigate the academic job market, and negotiate an academic position. In addition, he leveraged his position and resources to connect me with opportunities that would have otherwise been inaccessible to me. As a result of this mentoring experience, I am more intentional in identifying opportunities to support the career paths of my mentees. As my post-doctoral mentor did for me, I work to leverage my position and resources to provide otherwise inaccessible opportunities to my mentees.