Research tells us that mentoring is important to the development of graduate students. Those students with involved mentors tend to be more successful in their careers. Mentors provide critical feedback to students, make introductions for them, and help them understand the social dynamics and politics of the academy. Today, however, I’m thinking about the ways that mentees contribute to their mentors.
I often tell people that my very favorite part of being a professor is mentoring students. I enjoy watching them develop ideas and grow over time. Given the feedback that I get, I know that I provide a rich experience for both my students and those I mentor throughout the country. And, I’m always striving to do a better job at mentoring.
I contribute a lot, but I also gain so much from my mentees. I co-author articles, book chapters, and books with mentees on a regular basis. Once they get comfortable enough with themselves and the skills that they bring to the relationship, they are very good at providing feedback, challenging me, and offering constructive criticism. Each time I write with a mentee, I learn immensely. Sometimes I learn new ways of writing. Other times, I learn alternative methods of constructing arguments. Perhaps more than anything else, I have been exposed to new ways of seeing the world and the challenges that exist in it.
In addition to teaching us a lot, our mentees can be wonderfully inspiring. I gain a lot of energy from graduate students. I especially like working with them on ideas and then watching them take those ideas in new directions. Although some scholars pride themselves on producing students who do work just like their own, I encourage students to find their own voice and to put their own spin on their research. It’s that spin that is most exciting to me as I learn the most from it.
Given my research interests, the majority of my advisees and mentees are students of color. As a white scholar conducting research on minority institutions and populations, I think it is essential to have input and feedback from graduate students of color. I am especially grateful for their pushback on my interpretation and analysis of data. Of course, I provide the same kind of critical feedback to them as they approach their own research.
There have been many times that I have heard faculty members talk about how much time mentoring takes. Yes, it takes time, but the rewards for both the mentee AND mentor are immense. Mentoring graduate students of color, in particular, is a way to ensure that the racial and ethnic makeup of the professoriate is diverse and reflects the student population in the United States. It is also a way to ensure that opportunities are given to all students.