Whose responsibility is it to mentor junior faculty? Some departments assign them an official “mentor” in their department, whereas others don’t. There is some good do-it-yourself advice on “Finding Mentors” at Inside Higher Ed today that should be read by students and junior faculty alike. Come to think of it, it might be of use to tenured faculty as well. The somewhat exhausting fact of the matter is that tenure and promotion–even promotion to Professor–aren’t the end of the line, if you want to be active in your field nationally or internationally. Everyone needs to stay active, make new friends, nurture ongoing professional friendships, and self-promote, to some extent. (Fortunately for me, that’s one of my favorite parts of my job!)
Does your department assign mentors to incoming faculty? What do you think of that kind of system? I was talking to someone recently about this, and ze thought that it was a really effective way to help people strategize about publications–the faculty mentors’ main charge was to keep their mentees engaged in research and writing, and to help them figure out which journals or publishers would be appropriate. In my first job, the department I joined had considered instituting a formal mentorship program, because over 13 years they had failed to tenure any of the previous four occupants in the line I was hired to fill. But as I understood it, their conversations devolved into concerns about legal liability–could an unsuccessful tenure candidate sue hir mentor? Would the mentor or the department be liable for bad advice?
I’ve always been of the school of thought that it was one’s own responsibility to seek out mentors in a variety of different places–within one’s department of course but also in other disciplines within the university, and of course outside one’s own university but within one’s sub-field. E-mail communication made that easier than ever in the 1990s, and of course that’s always been a major feature of assembling panels and attending conferences. That’s why I like the DIY approach of the linked article above–but then again, I came of professional age at a different time and place, in the early and mid-1990s, at a university where (as I have said before) “we were raised by wolves,” or rather, by other graduate students, so we didn’t expect much from our advisors in the way of personalized career advice, connections, or career development.
Tell me about your experiences, as a graduate student and (if you’re there yet) as a faculty member and/or mentor to junior scholars, officially or unofficially. What are the benefits and drawbacks of an official mentor program? How does it work in your department or college? If you’ve gone the DIY route, what are your experiences (good or bad) in seeking out your own mentors? Howl away!