Saturday, 9 June 2012

NAISA and mentoring: paying it forward

So often I have found myself in conversations with other academics (especially 'early career' academics) about mentoring. We talk a lot about mentoring because most of us aren't mentored in the way we'd like, from the people we'd like, and/ or about the things we'd like. Back in the golden olden days when universities were the domain of middle class white men, there was a very effective system known as The Boys Club. Senior academics would have a drink with junior members of staff, or wander into their offices, or take them to conferences or bars, and download all kinds of advice and perspectives intended to help the junior person make the best possible decisions in the most mindful ways.

The Boys Club still exists, but as someone who is not a middle class white man I am unable to access its benefits - so I need to find mentors when and where I can. And find them I do! I haven't had the mentoring I'd hoped for (even assumed I'd get) but I do experience mentoring. I have mentors from a whole range of fields and places; some are just a few years ahead of me in this game and some are very senior.

At the NAISA conference in Mohegan, I had the opportunity to catch up with some mentors and to think about some others. I had questions and thoughts which I wanted to float by people I love and respect, and they were open to the direction of conversation. I was given all kinds of advice and support, and I truly felt mentored.

However, I am not the spring chicken I once was: I am no longer a new kid on the block but have students and more junior academics in my life too. I try to stay deliberate, mindful and supportive when it comes to mentoring. Certainly condescension (indeed, bossiness) can be spotted from a mile off, and it is unhelpful to simply set oneself up as the example either of perfection or of 'what not to wear' - either way, this kind of self-centredness doesn't actually leave any room for genuine communication or, indeed, mentoring.

I started my first academic job in January 2005 and since then I've learned quite a few things. I am deeply committed to the fields of research and teaching in which I am engaged, and I believe one always has the responsibility as well as the opportunity to support younger peers and newbies coming through. I still have heaps to learn, and appreciate my mentors very much, and am thankfulo for the generosity I have been shown over the past few years.

Today i found myself reflecting on the various conversations I had at NAISA with other Indigenous Studies scholars and realised the things we often tend to call 'mentoring' when I've been in conversations'about mentoring' were very much present: as a gift given to me by others, as a contribution I made to other people, in discussions with peers; in formal and informal ways.  

It's not The Boys Club. It's way cooler :)

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