Professional Development: Mentoring Moments

Issues that don't go away.

June 19, 2013
In the last month, I have organized or participated in a handful of different workshops related to professional development for academics along the pipeline from graduate students to tenured faculty. The workshops have varied from dossier building, to interview tips, how to work on finding or maintaining work life balance. What I have been struck with during these workshops is how these issues persevere as important topics to discuss. I attended workshops of this sort when I was a graduate student and found them helpful, as it was important to know that I was not alone with misgivings, having a hard time with writer's block, or when wanted tips about how to be an effective instructor. I spent many conferences at professional development workshops and roundtables, and my time was never wasted. I learned a lot, and I think that it is important to admit that I had something to learn and continue to do so. I also know that I am at the point in my career that I need to share this information, organize events, and step up my peer mentoring and coaching.
I sat on two Career Corner round-tables with several others, including "So You Want to Be An Academic" at the Congress held at the University of Victoria this June. Some of the questions were revealing about the lack of mentoring, coaching or professional development for the graduate students or junior colleagues. I have come to the conclusion that my mentors were outliers or at least the strong mentoring and coaching that they gave me was unusual. This is why I have dedicated so much of my time to mentoring or coaching my students and others around me. I learned a lot about my colleagues on the round-table, and made a mental note to organize some more professional development events during the next school year and to make a concerted effort to pitch them to graduate students. Why? After the Career Corners and other talks, I was inundated with comments from graduate students and realized that they are hungry for these of events. (During the last year in my capacity as the Chair of the Academic Women's Caucus, I have focused on mentoring for my undergrads and then workshops for current regular faculty, and with this focus, I know that I have missed graduate students).
The other point that I would like to make is that some things have not changed in academia during the last twenty years.  I feel like these professional development events chip away slowly at the foundation and demystify the so-called Ivory Tower. I have already contacted the university’s Learning and Teaching Center and have two workshops slated for the Fall: one for current faculty and another for graduate students. My advice to other mid-career women and men is to mentor, coach, sponsor and help junior colleagues and the next generation of academics. To those who are in the pipeline or trying to figure out what you want to do, keep your eyes open for professional development workshops or organize one with your peers and invite some others to share their experiences. This is an important part of networking and sharing information. Booker T. Washington's quote is instructive: "If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else." Finally, it is fair to say that professional development workshops offer us opportunities to help others.
Victoria, British Columbia in Canada.
Janni Aragon is a Senior Instructor of Political Science in the Department of Political Science at the University of Victoria. She is a blogger at University of Venus and her areas of interest are varied: Gender and Politics, Women and Technology, American Politics, Feminist Theories, Youth Politics, and Popular Culture. Currently she is working on a co-edited Introduction to Women’s Studies textbook and when she has time, she blogs at http://janniaragon.wordpress.com/


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