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How to get the most out of the ASTR Mentorship Program

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Updated: Friday, November 7, 2014

How to get the most out of the ASTR Mentorship Program
by the GSC Mentorship Committee; co-chairs: Shamell Bell (UCLA) and Christiana Molldrem Harkulich (Pitts)

Oftentimes, the dissertation or thesis advisor is the number one candidate for a good mentor, but there are other alliances to be found in committee members, teaching supervisors, and scholars inside and outside the individual’s institution.

Sometimes there are formal structures for pairing mentors and mentees, but most often these relationships need to be cultivated. Mentorship is a service for faculty members, but not required and not compensated. In a perfect world, faculty members seek out opportunities to mentor in order to produce good and effective scholars and teachers as part of their general vocation. However, with stresses of research and publication, teaching and committee work, mentoring is an additional service load and is often done out of goodness of heart. That, for good or for ill, is the nature and current paradigm of academia.

  • Mentees: Be open and receptive to advice and resources wherever and whenever it comes. Don’t pass these up. Mentorships “emerge,” vs. being assigned.

  • Mentees: Be someone with whom a prospective mentor wants to work. A mentor’s rewards are minimal: they want to work with friendly, enthusiastic, hard working scholars who take notes. If a mentor has to give the same exact advice more than a couple of times to the same mentee, they may start to wonder if their extra time is worth it!

  • Mentees: Be respectful of mentors’ time and patience. They’re there for you to come to with stresses, obstacles, crises, and can be a shoulder to cry on. But try not to become a “standing item on the agenda” as a problem child. Build a network of resources: mentors are part of a support team that includes partners, friends, and family members. Don’t let mentors carry the whole load for your success. They can get burned out, too!

  • Mentees: You’re not the mentor’s only mentee. Good mentors accumulate mentees over the years. In addition to working with their current cohort of graduate students, they’ve got mentees who’ve graduated and are on the job market, mentees out there in the profession, and even undergraduate mentees. If they don’t respond to your email asking for feedback on a paper right away, don’t take it personally.

  •  Mentees: It’s not the mentor’s job to keep tabs on you. If they’ve given you advice on a paper or dissertation chapter, and don’t hear from you again, they may not contact you asking for a follow up.

  • Mentees: The long and short of it is that mentorships are often informal, “off the grid,” and not part of a faculty member’s regular load. That said, a mentor-mentee relationship is a professional one. While the mentor will see you at your worst and most vulnerable and can be a cheerleader, it’s only rarely that you’ll find a “To Sir With Love”-style Sidney Poitier who will come get you out of bed to face the world. Try not to put your mentor in this position.

  • Keep in mind, mentees don’t “graduate.” While a given project (dissertation, publication, conference presentation) may culminate in a successful conclusion, and the intensity and contact between mentor and mentee may wax and wane over the years with continuing projects, your mentor can and will always be your mentor. Your continued success makes them feel good. Keep them posted on what you’re working on. Take them out for coffee at conferences and fill them in on how it’s going.


Tags:  ASTR  ASTR Baltimore  ASTR Mentorship Breakfast  astrgsc  christiana molldrem harkulich  GSC Mentorship Committee  shamell bell 

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