Comments on: Honesty: honestly? http://www.historiann.com/2010/04/17/honesty-honestly/ History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Tue, 30 Sep 2014 03:56:21 +0000 hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 By: Indyanna http://www.historiann.com/2010/04/17/honesty-honestly/comment-page-1/#comment-601961 Tue, 20 Apr 2010 03:55:23 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=10508#comment-601961 Per Tony Grafton, and others above, I think that anything structural or practice-related that deflects, refracts, or otherwise shifts some of the burden off of the traditional dyadic and hierarchical advisor/mentee relationship is very healthy for all parties. I was a visitor in a doctoral department once where the graduate school required one more committee member than the department in question thought meet and optimum. This was resolved by the appointment of an extra member on a sort of auxilliary basis (that wasn’t the exact term of art, but it will do) for each committee. I served in this capacity on several committees and one of the (pre) dissertation students informed me that the role of the “aux” member was to “keep the regular committee members from beating up on the student” in meetings and exams. Hir advisor and my colleague told me a day or two later that the role of the “aux” was to “keep the committee honest; to keep it from going too easy on the student.” This was said in total good will on both sides and the role in fact turned out to be precisely a flexible buffer for all parties. And I think this feature contributed to the overall healthiness of the situation in that particular program.

One other thing, if you find yourself anywhere within traveling distance of a standing seminar in your field at a research center, independent research library, or even another department, these forums often attract standing faculty from departments that don’t have graduate (or at least doctoral) programs. Such scholars often are eager to offer expertise, advice, networking contacts, sometimes even letters, to advanced students not their own. Since such relationships are almost by definition mutually beneficial (at least potentially), some of the heirarchical or authority issues that would arise in your own department even with secondary or tertiary advisors simply don’t materialize.

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By: Liz2 http://www.historiann.com/2010/04/17/honesty-honestly/comment-page-1/#comment-601956 Tue, 20 Apr 2010 02:58:27 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=10508#comment-601956 In the program I work at, the number of students is so small that they have a very limited cohort of peers and in some fields there are no others. Additionally, I’ve seen a number of faculty leave for research for one to two years at a go and leave their students behind. Some have been terrific at keeping up with their students, some have not. As a newer prof, I do some babysitting of students. And I dislike that term, but it is what it is because I cannot fully advise the students and sometimes when I have advised student when the advisor decides to show up, they get pissed off at me for trying to “advise” their students.

In the larger program I finished up in, it was full of good people. A tad competitive at times but good people. I bless them both for their help in pushing me at different times.

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By: Tony Grafton http://www.historiann.com/2010/04/17/honesty-honestly/comment-page-1/#comment-601017 Sun, 18 Apr 2010 21:09:28 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=10508#comment-601017 All great points. Many of our graduate students have two pretty much equal supervisors–often of different genders and ages. It’s no panacea, but it does lower the pressure a little, I think, and in some cases students seem to feel free to ask one of the two advisers questions they wouldn’t like to put to the other.

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By: thefrogprincess http://www.historiann.com/2010/04/17/honesty-honestly/comment-page-1/#comment-600921 Sun, 18 Apr 2010 16:06:58 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=10508#comment-600921 Let me just heartily agree with AsstProf’s point about the additional “layer of issues” that “queer people, people of color, women, working class people” have to deal with. A few months ago at my blog, someone pointed out differing levels of ability/disability and I’d also like to add mental wellness, especially depression or anxiety which I think are more rampant than people want to admit. So many times I feel as though faculty treat us all as though we are married, white, wealthy, men and have access to the resources and support married white wealthy men supposedly have.

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By: AsstProf http://www.historiann.com/2010/04/17/honesty-honestly/comment-page-1/#comment-600887 Sun, 18 Apr 2010 14:24:34 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=10508#comment-600887 My graduate school experience is relatively recent and I now am working with grad students at the public university I am now employed at, so I feel like I can understand the demands of both structural positions to some extent.

There is an ideal of mentorship in PhD programs that is just that, ideal. It rarely works in practice the way it is supposed to. Brilliant friends of mine from graduate school did not make it through because of the misanthropy of someone on their committee. PhD programs seem designed to make one feel insecure and to trigger traumatic transference issues (hence so much whining by so many amazing people). I had a professional career before graduate school, so managed to have some sense of perspective, but it can be hard to be 30 and still be literally dependent upon the approval of a parental figure for financial, professional, and personal sustenance. This is especially true for queer people, people of color, women, working class people who have another layer of issues to negotiate at the same time (imposter syndrome etc.).

In redesigning PhD programs we would do well to take some of the pressure off the advisor/dissertator relationship. (Even the good ones are often so sought after that they have no time for really strong mentorship.) This means building strong cohorts and thinking about how to build in a broader and more systematic mentoring system. Like many others, I would not have gotten through without my peers.

Ah, so much more to say, but I’ll leave it at that…

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By: Susan http://www.historiann.com/2010/04/17/honesty-honestly/comment-page-1/#comment-600573 Sun, 18 Apr 2010 03:36:33 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=10508#comment-600573 I think Indyanna is right, that this is something that has changed. I did my degree in a relatively small program; my advisor had a student a year ahead of me, and one two years behind or so. My year group was very close while we prepared for exams, but afterwards, I traveled, one of the 3 americanists dropped out, etc. So I had good colleagues, but in the end, it was sort of odd. I had friends through grad school, but only one in my field… That said, they helped me through some very rough moments!

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By: Meaghan http://www.historiann.com/2010/04/17/honesty-honestly/comment-page-1/#comment-600403 Sun, 18 Apr 2010 00:42:35 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=10508#comment-600403 I’m in an undergraduate honours program and we are the first ones to go through it as a group. The eight of us are such good friends, are so knowledgeable of what the others are up to–their successes, struggles and frustrations–and are so supportive of each other that it has been noticed by professors in the department who are not directly invested as either profs or as supervisors in our program. Every so often someone will mention that they are surprised at how well we get along, ect. We have used our collective action to bring up our concerns to the department, to apply to grad school and to ready ourselves for exams in a way that would not have been easy on our own.

Next year I’m starting an MA and I must say that if I get with a group of students who are half as supportive and generally great as the group I am with now, I would be thrilled. It’s so great to have people who are there for you to bounce ideas off of, to read your work and to have your back in bad situations.

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By: Janice http://www.historiann.com/2010/04/17/honesty-honestly/comment-page-1/#comment-600351 Sat, 17 Apr 2010 23:23:39 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=10508#comment-600351 I got a great deal of emotional support from my grad school colleagues (bless each and every one of them). Some of that was crucial to helping me through real crisis moments.

But nobody was anywhere near my intellectual niche of practice. That distance only grew when I went to work at Regional Comprehensive U where I’m the only pre-modernist (Anglophone). But here, reaching across specializations and disciplinary boundaries has helped me concoct a similar support group.

Getting that support somewhere, whether from classmates, colleagues or other intellectual peers, has to be critical to helping anyone navigate academia. The problem is that we’re often the least well-equipped, in terms of emotional intelligence and working conditions, to both notice and support our peers and students properly.

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By: truffula http://www.historiann.com/2010/04/17/honesty-honestly/comment-page-1/#comment-600173 Sat, 17 Apr 2010 18:25:56 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=10508#comment-600173 Establishing a good network of colleagues is one of the most important outcomes of graduate school (and at least in the sciences, of the early post-doctoral years), imho.

Andrew, as you note, all students are different. We don’t have much of a faculty mentoring system here at my institution but I’ve cobbled it together as I’ve gone along and that’s been helpful in thinking about advising. A key for me has been recognizing that the best advice might not come from faculty. Classified staff (office managers and so on) have great insight into the life of the university. I think the biggest thing I do right is having a “my door is (almost) always open” policy but I can see how that would not work for every adviser. Whatever you figure out that works for your students has to work for you too, otherwise it won’t work for any of you after a while.

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By: Indyanna http://www.historiann.com/2010/04/17/honesty-honestly/comment-page-1/#comment-600169 Sat, 17 Apr 2010 18:04:50 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=10508#comment-600169 I think it’s a commonplace now that graduate students in anything but the smallest departments form reading groups, study groups, and other sub-cohorts that help to sustain or overcome the isolation in ways that were not the case in my day. It would be a very interesting study to read a couple of generations of dissertation acknowledgments sections to see how the culture has evolved in that respect. It’s a very stylized genre of academic expression, but still I think the changes are very apparent and overwhelmingly a good thing.

For all of that, it remains a stage where there is often considerable hesitation to talk about specific research for fear that something might get “stolen” (not necessarily or at all by your near cohort-mates but simply by virtue of being “out there” in general), or else be meanly criticized or something. This is obvious human nature, but something that needs to be worked on, to the extent that one can manage natural reactions.

And, as thefrogprincess notes, once you get in a department of your own, unless it’s truly vast in scope, you’re likely to be surrounded by people who do very different things. And while this can be wonderful, it also limits the degree to which you can really share ideas in depth (especially early on). From that point, cohort-formation is external to the department, but I think it still builds on the quality of the collegial experiences you’ve managed to have at the larval stage. I guess the bottom line is that learning how to be simultaneously competitive and collegial with larger and larger groups of people is no easy thing.

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