Tag Archives: Steven D’Agustino

What We Talk About When We Talk About Mentoring

The following post is a response/reflection to the Third Meeting of NEH Project on The Living Humanities PhD in the 21st Century, “Ensure Access and Inclusion.” For an overview of the meeting see the minutes here or read through our overview posts here and here

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As we reexamine the reality and the possibilities associated with the Humanities Ph.D., the relationship between mentor and mentee should be central to our considerations.

While it is generally accepted that mentoring is integral to the experience of graduate students, greater clarity about the purpose – or purposes – of mentoring is needed.

  • Why is this relationship integral to the students, not just academically, but professionally and personally?
  • What do we hope to accomplish as a result of mentoring?
  • What are successful mentoring outcomes?

This seems obvious in the sense that institutionally successful mentoring culminates in the awarding of a degree. It is likely that many mentees share this perspective. But perhaps it is important to reexamine the various aspects of the student experience a successful mentor may affect. As we look at the humanities today it becomes obvious that the awarding a degree is not automatically equating to a tenure-track job, or even a satisfactory academic experience. A mentor is largely a guiding force toward the Ph.D., but a successful relationship and a lauded mentor often engage farther.

On November 15th, the “The ‘Living Humanities’ Ph.D. for the 21st Century” group tackled the theme of “access and inclusion”— a theme that we cannot untangle from the issue of mentoring, especially considering retention and completion rates. If we look to diversify higher education at the doctoral level, it must also be our goal to strengthen existing mentoring processes and, if necessary, modify them to support our changing community and academic landscape. To do this, we need to examine the roles that mentors ideally fill.

If other outcomes beyond basic matriculation might also be considered components of successful mentoring, what should they be?  Below is a potential list of mentoring components and associated outcomes:

  • Academic– the mentoring relationship will support the mentee’s advancement toward completion of the degree.
  • Disciplinary– the mentoring relationship will support the mentee’s increasing expertise in a specific discipline as evidenced by advancement through the curriculum as well as participation in discipline-specific events (conferences, conclaves, and webinars).
  • Social– the mentoring relationship will support the mentee’s increasing social integration as evidenced by participation in “extra-curricular” events and the development of a social network. As studies show students in graduate programs feel they lack “community” this aspect seems extremely vital.
  • Professional– the mentoring relationship will support the mentee’s progress in the development of a professional network as evidenced by attendance at recruiting events, a completed CV and the development of a professional network. Professional mentoring and support should not be limited to academic careers, and a successful mentor, if not able to advise on alternative professional outcomes should be able to advise the student where to find them.
  • Ethical – the mentoring relationship will support the mentee’s growing sense of the ethical implications of holding an advanced degree as evidenced by measures specific to a given discipline.
  • Cultural– the mentoring relationship will support the mentee’s understanding of the complex nature (values, practices, norms) of academia and of a particular discipline. This last outcome seems central, especially given the exclusionary history of the development of these cultural norms and practices. Outcome measures seem more elusive.

If we look at this list, it becomes increasingly clear that the mentor serves as a touch point for most aspects of the student experience and that without responsible mentorship students will flounder even more in the uncertain landscape of Higher Ed. We need to better understand how departments (and who in them) are filling these roles. So, how can we as an academic community and institution evaluate and access mentorship across disciplines?

Perhaps the development of a rubric might serve to help broaden how mentoring is evaluated and how a successful mentoring relationship at GSAS is not limited to achieving the degree. This is helpful for the purposes of reporting – it may behoove us to have many dimensions along which mentors and mentees can experience success. A rubric might help with the development of training protocols for mentors, evaluating the effectiveness of mentoring and providing clear expectations for mentees.

  • Steven D’Agustino, Ph.D., Director of Online Learning, Fordham University
  • Dewis Shallcross, Director of Student Development, GSAS ‘14

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