Thursday, October 26, 2006

Scattered thoughts on mentoring

Although I can't find the post now (I really need to start tagging these things), you may remember that last year I was contemplating "firing" one of my mentors---for lack of interest and for generally not being very helpful at a time when I really needed his input and advice. I decided at the time to wait and see what happened, to give him another chance, and to maybe start exploring other mentoring relationships. (Jeez, this sounds a lot like dating talk, doesn't it?)

A couple of weeks ago, I had another meeting with this mentor, and it went extremely well. I had two potentially thorny areas to discuss with him, one of which was the dreaded Departmental Culture Issue, and the discussion could not have gone any better. He was sympathetic, and helpful, and encouraging. He identified things that he could do (and is now doing, to his credit). He also, on a third topic I brought up (as a pie-in-the-sky idea I'd been thinking about for a while), gave me a list of people to go talk to and encouraged me to "take this idea, run with it, and make yourself visible on this! you should be the driving force behind this!" It was an excellent meeting, and left me feeling all warm and fuzzy afterwards.

So that was good, obviously.

This of course was tempered by a not-quite-as-positive mentoring experience (same person). I was going through notes I had written to myself at the beginning of the year, and found a set of notes from a meeting with the same mentor. On this list were a set of specific things that this mentor said he would do this year to help get me on the right track towards tenure. This mentor has done a grand total of one of those things. Now, granted, the majority of the blame should fall on me here for not reminding him of what he promised to do, and I take full responsibility. But there is a part of me that's annoyed that if I hadn't noticed this, it would have just fallen by the wayside. So I guess what I'm struggling with is how much responsibility should you take for your own mentoring, and also how much "checking in" should you expect from your mentors? Clearly there's an appropriate middle ground between "mentee takes all the responsibility" and "mentor takes all the responsibility", and this middle ground should skew way more towards the mentee's end than the mentor's end. But I kind of feel like with this particular relationship, it's too far skewed in my direction, and I don't know if that's normal or not.

Finally, on a partially-related note, I've decided that I need a research mentor. Or a research buddy. I have not found an appropriate research mentor within my department, unfortunately, and so I need to look elsewhere. Partly to help keep me on track with my research (no more setbacks!!), and partly with more practical stuff (is this conference appropriate, why does this paper keep getting rejected, how do I get on this program committee). I think I need to recultivate some of my former contacts---I was good for a while keeping in touch with my research network, but to be honest the stress of last year made me want to hole up and not talk to anyone. So that's my new task for the month.


Clyde said...

Glad the one mentoring meeting went well! Hmm, I'm not sure how I would divvy up responsibility in mentoring relationships. Although, IIRC, you've been on the other side and mentored younger scholars, so it seems to me that you have a sense of what you expect of yourself when you're a mentor. And I suspect that your mentor has not lived up to what you would expect of yourself if you were the mentor (given that you have some experience being a mentor). Also glad that you have your notes so that you can follow-up now that you've realized that it needs to happen. Maybe your mentor needs some concrete deadlines so that you'll both know when to follow-up? I wonder if there's a way to communicate that not having done more than one of the things on the list contributes to the problems with the dreaded departmental culture... Or, maybe something's shifted in your mentor's world between meetings? Good luck and thanks for the update(s)!

Iris said...

Hi Jane

I wonder what is the procdure to assign mentors to mentee, and are there any regulations to control this relationship?


Joolya said...

It seems like people do need a lot of reminding. I've found, with my mentors and even collaborators, that they forget about things a LOT. I get very paranoid that, e.g., person A is not sending me the reagent I need because they secretly hate me and don't want me to do this project. But actually it's probably because they have 99 things to do and I am #100 on their list of priorities for the day.
I hate to be that annoying person who bugs people all the time, but then I remember that if my colleagues didn't keep bugging me about something I said I would do, I would get distracted and totally forget about it and not do it, so I'm actually pleased to be reminded. So maybe this mentor really does want to help you, but just needs to be reminded that you exist more often.
My mom is a social worker and she says the secret to getting people to do stuff for you is to make it so that they'd rather do the thing than see your smiling face pop up in the doorway one more time. ;)
That's my experience, anyway.

Jane said...

Clyde, the concrete deadlines thing might be the best way to proceed here. Thanks for the tip!

Iris, in this particular case I chose my mentor. This was a person whom I found myself going to time and time again to ask for advice, and one day I just said "hey, I kind of consider you my mentor now, is that OK?" and he was fine with it. We also have a formal mentoring program, in which new faculty are assigned mentors, and I have a great mentor through that program as well. Every school does it differently, I suspect. But there really are no guidelines for either relationship---as long as it's working, that's fine; once it stops working, it's understood that you just sort of stop contacting the person, I guess. Great question!

Joolya, that's a great point, and so true. I just always worry about being too much of a pest, but I should just learn to get over it. :) Thanks!