Yesterday I attended two panels of a multi-session workshop on graduate mentoring that was beautifully organized by Glenn Wright at the SU Graduate School. The first discussed best practices for mentors and the second, run by Paula Chambers, laid out her “Virtual PhD” advocacy for counseling PhD students toward non-academic positions.
The takeaway from the best practices is that good mentoring emerges out of frequent meetings and consistent, concrete feedback. I was particularly struck by the weekly meeting Joanna Masingila, Dean, School of Education runs for her doctoral students. From my Humanities neck of the woods, I’d call this meeting a “proseminar”. Students register for it and receive zero to three credits, depending on where they are in the program. Students who are analyzing data or writing prospectuses or grants can register for 2-3 credits, while those gathering data or reading through bibliographies register for 1 credit. Students still in coursework are required to attend but receive zero credits. Each Monday, Joanna reported, one student sends out a chapter or a set of analyzed data, and each Friday (3:45-4:45 p.m.) the group meets with faculty to discuss what was sent out. The meeting works not only to model genre (this is what a dissertation prospectus looks like, this is what a grant proposal looks like) but also to incarnate departmental support and the necessary collective dimension of any academic success.
The Virtual PhD discussion left me less satisfied. I broached the session fully on board with the need to counsel students toward alt-ac teloi for their doctorates. But Paula seemed to respond to academic disdain for the corporate world with non-academic disdain for the focus, time, energy and passion required to become successful in the academy. The edge in her voice was a bit distracting considering her audience (faculty and staff dedicated to mentoring grad students). Clearly, Humanities mentors are deluded and even cruel if they refuse to vocalize their support for non-TT jobs. I’d even say that every departmental professionalization program needs to establish regular alt-ac discussions in their programming. But this support for considering and pursuing a wide range of post-doctoral employment must be balanced with an insistence that departmental training simply is what it is–regardless of what one ends up doing with the degree. The desire to work for an NGO or the State Department is fantastic but cannot be used as the excuse for not fully engaging with the intellectual, pedagogical, and programmatic offerings of the department. My support for a student’s interest in digital humanities or curriculum development is different from my feeling obligated to suggest that all students develop IT or administrative skills because they are imminently desired by “the market.”