By Joycelyn Moody - JMoody's Musings
Recently, a former doctoral student of mine who is now a professor grieved her need for a mentor as she heads into her second year at her institution. Let’s call this student E, for Excellent. E needs a mentor, she tells me, because she still hasn’t caught on to her school’s or department’s culture. She often feels like she’s putting her foot in her mouth for lack of knowledge of back story or stepping into “it” without realizing it.
I empathize, remembering my first year as a professor. I was expected to teach from Prentice Hall, a composition book so new to me that until I received my desk copy, I silently kept wondering, “Who is Princess Hall?” In other words, I had an academic environment that, like E’s, I believed would feel less painful if I had a mentor.
Moreover, it’s virtually true, especially when it comes to minoritized women, hoping—to say nothing of asking—for mentorship as I did back when, can feel improper, bold or unseemly, too risky, and certainly undignified. What would the right answer be anyway: that I needed a mentor (because I didn’t know what I was doing), or that I didn’t need a mentor (because I was surefooted)? Sometimes even now, when it comes to mentorship, I can hardly tell the “right” risks to take—sometimes I need a mentor myself to compare relative risks!
Also, I wondered if E could tell me, or I tell her for that matter, just what her wondrous mentor might look like. How would we know when we’d found them? How could E protect her dignity were she to admit aloud she wanted a mentor?
I wanted to help E, so I found myself musing as to what might a smart and sentient mentor do in E’s case. How could a mentor in the current iteration and image of the person help E? Contemplating E’s gloom, I thought more about our expectations of mentors. What do mentors do for us? What do we want them to do? In seeking a “mentor,” what was E hoping for?
Maybe “mentor” is a misnomer. Or a legit name that has lost its potency from overuse. A worrisome word because the lack of a “mentor” leaves many faculty feeling deficient, without a wise counselor whom other people always seem to have.
Maybe “mentor” restricts us, steers us off course while we quest for an illusory savior. What if we changed mentor to align more with our needs? Maybe what E lacked wasn’t a “mentor,” but a confidante who’s been around the block E needs to navigate, an informed colleague who can be counted on now and again to specify connections between institutional Major and Minor Players. Not gossip but an orientation that empowers E with greater clarity and assurance.
Most readers of this blog have likely heard multiple times that The Wise One is not so much a “mentor” as a colleague who themselves get bowled over by unexpected administrative moves and inane institutional politics, and as thrown off kilter as E. Even the savviest faculty occasionally trip and fall.
In those cases, The Wise One probably turns to a colleague—even to E—to express feelings of naiveté and frustration. Such sharing represents peer mentorship, despite professional differences, advantages, of one sort or another. Peer mentorship is just what it sounds like—sensitive comfort and perception from a friend. Peers respect one another. We might think of them as “mutual mentorships,” relationships committed to professionalism and emotionality between equals.
WellAcademic’s Roxanne Donovan, a licensed psychologist and mentor extraordinaire, cites a similar exchange of recognition and validation: “flash mentoring.” Developed by K. Scott Derrick, the neologism names a mode of learning from a more experienced person for even a few minutes. What’s key in this type of mentoring is receiving, or giving, chance wisdom from one more astute in some way. Crucially, flash mentoring can extend to Higher Ed when persons facilitate or participate in programs designed to foster academic professional development.
What inspires me about planned and serendipitous exchanges of proficiencies among colleagues is the work such interchanges can do to dispel another misnomer: the “Role Model.” Not that we shouldn’t venerate exceptional persons and (other) experts. The point is that persons worthy of awe and emulation actually surround us. Closely connected to us or not, “role models,” like “mentors,” reveal how much we can learn from other people in small, significant ways, and they illuminate how we might cultivate the traits we admire in them.
Until next time,
By Roxanne Donovan - Wellness
Welcome to July! The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and academics everywhere are freaking out.
In April, the three-month summer break seems like an endless expanse of time. You forget (again) how this break never ends up being as long or as leisurely as you expect. In this state of unfettered optimism, you plan an impossibly long summer to-do list.
Of course I can finish four articles, collect data from 1000 participants, and redo six classes. No probs.
In the stark light of July, those uncompleted (or even untouched) plans fill you with self-loathing and dread. Your stress level begins to rise higher and higher as the clock ticks louder and louder.
The thing about stress is it hijacks the ability to plan and make sound decisions. This hijacking might explain why, when faced with too little time and too much to do, many of us double down.
You know you’ve doubled down when you start convincing yourself you can still get everything done…in half the time. Like Ethan Hunt from Mission Impossible, you figure there is some secret combination of moves that will save the day. And it usually goes something like this: I just need to work more, write faster, sleep less.
Doubling down is a horrible strategy. It never works...evah!
Okay, it might work for a bit. But, and this is important, it is NOT a sustainable strategy. Working at a frenetic pace without rest and recuperation reduces alertness, productivity, and performance. The exact opposite of what you want.
Breaking the mid-summer stress cycle requires admitting you are human. You have limits. And to work healthily, not everything you planned to do will get done. Yes, you must let some things go.
This is hard...very, very hard.
BUT it's much better on your stress level and self-esteem to admit your humanness now and develop a realistic plan. Waiting will only make things worse.
I know what you're thinking: if I could plan realistically, I wouldn't be in this mess. No worries. I’m here to help. We can do this plan-making together. All you need to do is AIM.
AIM is a simple triage process I use with stressed clients who can’t figure out where to focus their time. It requires placing each item on your to-do list in one of three categories– Acute, Important, or Minor.
All the items that have to get done this summer go in this category. Be careful not to confuse have to get done with want to get done or should get done. Have-to items are required for your job security/success and have non-negotiable due dates. Examples are an R&R with a hard summer deadline, a tenure portfolio due the first day of fall semester, a fall course prep.
This category is for items that don’t have an immediate deadline but are important to your future goals. Examples are a major overhaul of a course you're not teaching in the fall, a grant proposal that you can submit in another cycle, almost-completed articles you can choose to work on now or later.
All leftover items go here – like those things you thought would be great to do this summer but can be done in the distant future, if at all (e.g., reading all the articles in your discipline’s main journal, organizing your file cabinets, starting a new research project when you already have several in various stages of completion).
Your mission - if you choose to accept it* - is to prioritize your time so you complete all the acute items (at least) while still taking breaks, sleeping at least 7 hours per night, and spending time with family and friends.
The trick here is focus. This means not working on anything in the important or minor categories until you've completed everything in the acute category. No matter how tempting. Stay strong.
If you’re lucky enough to have time left over after completing your acute items, move to the important category items. And so on.
If you aren’t so lucky, you will need to let the important and minor items go…at least for this summer. Again, this is not easy. It helps to have some self-compassion. Keep reminding yourself that you are only human, you are doing the best you can, and you are choosing to work in ways that maximize your productivity AND your health.
Good luck! This tape will self-destruct in five seconds*.
*For you millennials out there, these references are from the Mission Impossible TV show that aired a long, long, long time ago.