Tag Archives: Dewis Shallcross

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


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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Filed under "Living Humanities" Ph.D., Higher Ed, NEH

Talking About Money- And Why You Need To Do It

People, I’m about to get brutally honest here. Well, not brutally—maybe viciously, if viciously means I’m going to couch my serious point in sarcastic humor because I never learned to talk about money until my only mental defense was to be witty about it.

But regardless of personal feelings, we need to talk finances. I know, just the thought of talking about money makes everyone’s academic souls begin to cringe in sympathetic embarrassment. And that’s my point. It’s 2016. The economy is not great. We can’t all sit around not talking about the one thing that is on everyone’s mind ALL THE TIME.

When I was grad student I spent 50% of my time thinking about my studies, 40% worrying about how I was going to pay for those studies, and the last 10% obsessing over Doctor Who. (Was Matt Smith really going to be able to follow David Tennett? Tennett was the best!! In hindsight I think we can all agree Smith brought it, but this was a very anxious times for Whovians.)

You need to do research on finance options the same way you research your dissertation. You need to know your options and talk about them—with your family, your cohort, and your department leadership. I always felt weird bringing up money with my adviser, as if they would think less of me if they knew I was anxious about how school would affect my financial future. As if they hadn’t also been a grad student at some point worrying about the same thing.

And while I think that students today feel the pressure in a way that many of our advisers didn’t, that just means we have to talk to them so they know how you’re feeling.  It seems like a bad thing, talking about money, as if by doing so you’re betraying the “casual, intellectual, only care about the work” persona of the academic.

But professionals talk about money, academic or not. You don’t take a job without asking about the salary, you don’t gamble your future without some sort of guidance. Guess what? Those little freshman babies over in Gabelli business school walk into class the first day and ask how much they could make with an MBA. We don’t do that.

And cool your jets— I’m not saying we need to be like business majors. But we do need to take some of the good things they’re doing and modify them for our own needs. Do you flat out ask your adviser how much you can make with a MA in English? Maybe not. But you could ask how much debt the typical student has after graduating. They may not be able to give you numbers but they might be able to give you an estimate to tell you whether you need to private loans on top of the federal.

We need to be more upfront about money so we don’t feel blindsided when we graduate. Graduating should be amazing but you’re not going to be feeling great if you’re panicking about the future.

And after we graduate we need to know how to discuss salary, and that means knowing what we should be making. You might have a little less negotiation room if you’re taking a T-T position, but what does having a MA or an MS mean when you move outside academia? For many who are more professionally oriented, having an MA is supposed to be the difference between entry-level salary and a more livable wage. You can’t get that if you don’t know 1) industry norms and 2) how to talk about salary without becoming a sweaty mess and/or an over-agreeable pushover.

I, and most other academic-orientated people I know, tend to fall into the second category. We’re told so much that our degrees are useless, or that the economy is so bad that we’re so grateful for a job when it is offered, that we jump at it, thus loosing most negotiating power. But if our degrees were useless we wouldn’t be being offered the job, so we have to rein that desperation in. You deserve it, and you deserve to have a reasonable wage. Worst comes to worst, they say no. No one’s going to fire you (or not hire you) for asking for more money—and if they do you really shouldn’t work someplace so miserly.  That’s a warning sign.

You have a lot more power in the hiring process than you think you do, and you need to know how to handle that situation, and how to talk about it, when the time comes.

  • Dewis Shallcross, Director of Student Development, GSAS ‘14

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Filed under Finances, Graduate Students, GSAS Students, Professional Development

A Quick Guide to Avoiding the “Job Talk”- Holidays Edition

Break will soon be upon us (or is upon you, if you get spring recess as well as Easter) so I thought I’d take a minute to address that topic that is the most annoying for those of us getting advanced liberal arts degrees—dealing with relatives during holidays.

And I’m not talking finding ways to distract your younger cousins from your (admittedly AMAZING) Doctor Who Sonic collection or ducking out of an infuriating conversation about politics with your parents.

Oh no. That’s small potatoes. I’m talking about The Big One. The “what exactly are you studying?… (Puzzled silence) And what are you going to do with that?” conversation.

Even as someone who’s been gainfully employed for two years I still shudder at the thought. It’s the question that never goes away, either, because even if you do get a job it just becomes, “and how are you using that degree again?” So don’t get your hopes up History MA. No amount of law school will ever let them forget that you spent two years researching the implications of medieval chastity on the evolution of the church.

Oh and you PhDs who think that “tenure track professor” is an acceptable answer? Yeah right. Your grandparents don’t even understand what tenure is. Is that a real thing? What do you mean you’ll have a job for life? And your uncle? Well he’s been reading the newspaper and it looks like universities are in the “you know what.” How likely are you to get this thing anyway? Is this really how you want to be contributing to the economy?

And don’t even try to explain. Because if you do… oh boy. You’ll just set yourself off in a panic cycle of self-doubt that will cause you to question every decision you’ve ever made since you first watched Indiana Jones in middle school and you will eventually run into the nearest bathroom and frantically look up advertisements for entry-level copy editor positions… Okay, sorry about that. I might be working through some stuff.

But I digress.

People are going to want to talk about the five-year plan you put off by going to grad school, so here are some strategies to evade the inquisition:

  1. Always be eating. Food in your mouth means they can’t engage—this is where all that insisting you have “manners” turns on them. Getting the food shouldn’t be hard since your family home is likely an embarrassment of food riches. Mom splurged for the brand name cold cuts? Well aren’t we the 1%.
  2. Hide important containers and utensils. Aunt Suzie circling and about to swoop in to ask you about when you’ll finally be done? Oh wait, you just remembered Dad needs the special casserole dish. [Insert holiday of your denomination here] won’t be same without it! And what’s that Grammy? No salad tongs?! Not on your watch!
  3. Bring home a significant other. They’ll be so distracted interrogating you about that development they’ll forget all about your schooling. (This is when social norms and the pressure to be “fulfilled” through marriage is actually helpful. Note: This technique tends to work better for women. Sorry guys, but you do make an extra 22 cents on the dollar so… not that sorry.)
  4. Attach yourself to a needy family member. It can be a kid—hello coloring books, why are you still so fun?—or perhaps a maiden great aunt, but the most important thing to remember is to pick someone who’s going to need your constant supervision and attention. If you’re talking about someone’s rheumatoid arthritis you’re not talking about your dissertation. Bonus, you can go on drink runs if someone tries to corner you—Aunt Bobbi could be dead any minute, so she needs her wine ASAP. Personally, I like to hang with the kids. There tends to be holiday-themed crafts and they always splurge for the good juice during the holiday.

Well there you go—just a few helpful hints to get you through the break. And who knows, maybe you have a unicorn family full of super supportive family members who, like you, see the value in understanding the universe/past/language that influences us all. And if you do, I can only say one thing.

Any more seats for dinner?

  • Dewis Shallcross, Director of Student Development, GSAS ‘14

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Filed under Family, Graduate Students, GSAS Students

How to Mingle (with a Side of Networking)

Last night I had the good fortune to attend a cocktail party (and gosh do I feel a weird mix of old and elegant saying that phrase with a straight face) to celebrate a dear friend’s move. This party, which was held at a small non-profit museum, was the field-typical mix of young and old, rich and not-so-rich, volunteers and board members. The clear division between board members and regular (non-ED) employees is blurred with small organization like this one, creating an opportunity for the run of the mill intern (or past intern like me) to get some face time with people who “know people.”

This event made my anxiety-ridden mind look forward to a conference I’ll be attending next month, and the nightly “soirees” that are sure to ensue. This, more than anything, was what used to (and occasionally still does) give me anxiety, so I thought I’d write out some thoughts on how to network casually at reception events, in case like me, anyone tends to linger too long near the queso.

First things first—leave the comfort of the cheese. I know it’s hard, especially as a graduate student being lured by the siren call of free food, but hanging out by the food table screams socially-awkward. Conversations can’t really happen since you can’t block the table with groups and trying to eat a cracker and talk to that professor you’re dying to work with is a disaster waiting to happen. Take a little food (it should fill a little plate but don’t go crazy) and then step out into the middle of the room or grab a small table.

So now you’re standing alone, far from your best friend, gouda, and this was a terrible idea!!

But don’t panic! You can do this! Your best bet if you’re new to this group is to find someone who is also standing alone and just go up and say hello. Keep it short and if you’re comfortable, make a joke about hating to stand alone. Odds are, unless they’ve got a mouth full of food, they’ll be happy to talk to someone. (Hint- Don’t approach someone on a cell phone or if they’ve clearly just stepped away to have a drink or a bite to eat—you can tell your fellow loner by the desperate way they’ll be scanning the room for a familiar face.)

But maybe you’re beyond the basics. You’ve been to this event before, have said your mandatory hello’s and are looking to do a little mingling with people outside your main social circle. You’ve got your business cards (carefully stored in a pocket or easy to reach purse location) and you’re looking to meet some new people, hopefully ones with some sort of super job-finding power. But how to find them?

Important people tend to stay in one place, with people who are interested in talking to them, coming to them. You can’t rely on someone to come up to you. Ask a friend to introduce you, or if you don’t have any mutual connections, wait for an opening and introduce yourself. But don’t linger around—like the cheese, this person is going to be a sought out resource, and you won’t make friends by forcing a prolonged conversation. That’s not to say longer conversations shouldn’t or won’t happen, just that you need to read the room.

And move around the room.  Hanging out with the same people the whole night can be a waste of an opportunity. Last night the most successful young woman (who was NOT me), moved from group to group, sometimes introduced by her old boss, sometimes not. She worked that room like a pro, and had I been a better mingler, I would have gotten her card and had her write this post!

And finally, leave the nest. Go talk to people outside your own age group. Do not get stuck at the kids table. It can be intimidating as a young professional to go talk to your older peers or bosses but it’s worth the risk to start the conversation. You can contribute to the group no matter its makeup and it’s important to show that socially as well as in work scenarios.

But the best tip I can offer is to just relax. No one is judging you if you’re standing alone and it’s not the end of the world if you are— just remain calm and worst comes to worst, eat some cheese and call it a night.

And for love of all the books in the library, when you eventually host an event don’t say that dress is “smart casual.” NO ONE knows what that means.

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Filed under Conference, Networking, Networking Reception, Professional Development