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The Accidental Mentor
August 16, 2011 - 9:46pm

On my way back from Bandung, Indonesia, I received two messages which set me hollering in joy in the crowded departure lounge of the Manila airport. A young colleague was awarded a Fulbright grant for a PhD in the US; two others were short-listed for Fulbright research grants in agriculture. What really touched me were the effusive thanks on their part for my encouraging them to apply and for believing in their competitiveness as applicants. Prior to that, a former thesis advisee had sent me an email thanking me for landing a job at a University in Mindanao. He had met the department chair at the Political Science conference where he presented a paper and for which he received travel assistance from me and my husband.

These messages made me reflect about how much (or how little, in my reckoning) I have done for others throughout my academic career. The university is full of newbies eager to receive guidance and guideposts from those who have been-there-done-that on a myriad of decisions: choosing the right graduate program to get into, working on a thesis or dissertation, preparing research proposals or publishing peer-reviewed articles. Unfortunately, not all called to academic life are organically cut out for mentoring. In an environment where one has to jostle for lucrative grants and consultancies, to mentor means to create a potential competitor. In some Manila-based universities where professors are so busy juggling multiple “moonlighting” activities, there simply is no time to nurture budding scholars along the lines demanded by mentorship.

I have had no mentor in the full sense of the word, but my whole academic career is a story of the boundless generosity of individuals who believed in my potential. There were Dr. Nemenzo and Dr. Caoili, Political Science professors who overlooked my ripped jeans and t-shirts with leftist messages to get me into teaching, with only a promise that I would hold my law degree ambitions in abeyance. Colleagues Lisa Baliao, Rose Asong and Luz Rodriguez initiated me to the joys of field-based research across rivers, on mountain tops, in crowded jeepneys or habal-habal (single motorbike carrying at least 9 passengers). Dr. Siason, my former Division chair pushed me to apply for a Fulbright fellowship when but a handful have ever been awarded at my University. I became a better writer and record-time PhD-holder through Bill Crotty, Suzanne Ogden and Chris Bosso. From Temy Rivera, Carol Hernandez and Jojo Abinales, Filipino scholars whose international successes inspire career templates, I have received good introductions which enabled me to do interviews, deliver lectures and make hosting arrangements in Japan and the US.

I did not set out to mentor; it just happened and was relatively easy to do. I have written so many personalized recommendation letters to colleagues and students applying for school admission or jobs. I recruited colleagues to apply for Fulbright and other competitive international grants I have previously received. I coached young faculty members to be bolder in connecting with foreign professors, to submit to ISI journal outlets, and to dream big and believe in the superiority of their achievements even if coming from the Philippine periphery. Upon assuming the Division chairmanship, I have carried out workshops and writing workshops for journal article and research proposal preparation. I have sat down with colleagues to figure out graduate school options in the Philippines and abroad. I have also wrestled with University administrators for faculty tenure and renewal of appointments and explored funding options for those attending professional conferences. I celebrate colleagues publishing an article, releasing a book, winning an award by writing about them in the University website and newsletter.

Paying small acts of kindness forward bears surprising psychic rewards.

Iloilo, Philippines

Rosalie Arcala Hall is a Professor at the University of the Philippines Visayas and a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.


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