Tidal Shifts: Co-Mentoring and Collaborative Graduate Work

I don't give myself much time to reflect, though I'm a hypocrite. I'll always advise my students to "let the paper get cold" and give themselves "time to think and breathe" post-project.

So this weekend, I went to the beach. In the moments when I am both physically and electronically unplugged from work, the purpose of my work becomes clearer. That is to say that the daily stress of completing tasks often obscures their importance. Some time away from them can help me reprioritize and more efficiently approach them when I return.

It's important that I unplug in every way I can for at least a couple days a month. This weekend, we visited Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach. My parents had taken me to Wilmington, the Outer Banks, and Kill Devil Hills when I was a kid, so I wasn't completely unfamiliar with the territory, though I had never paddled there. I found the beaches to be quiet and clean, the water choppy, and the wildlife abundant. (Wild dolphins! Lots and lots of them!)

We paddled up the intracoastal waterway just ahead of a big storm. What's strange about the trip was this: though the waterway wasn't secluded (it was about 4 p.m., during a sunny break in an otherwise rainy Saturday), the experience felt very muffled, like the storm clouds had pressed out all the sounds. The paddling wasn't technically demanding, but it did require some brute force. The tide was coming back in, but the channels we explore are unpredictable in terms of riptides, so it's always a gamble. It was the right scenario for reflection for me. When I rely on my body alone, my mind's free to wander.

This time my mind wandered to consider my great good fortune. Since I entered college in 1998 (wow), I've had at least one mentor who has not only guided my education but has offered valuable learning-the-ropes kinds of stuff. I might get line-length help or analytic frame help or advice on jobs alongside consolation or amusement or a recipe for oatmeal cookies (or a real oatmeal cookie. Food is love.). The tacit lessons on collegiality are what I considered as I paddled yesterday. Where did I learn how to be a good faculty member? Certainly by watching bad examples and vowing never to replicate. But it's more than that. I won't call out my mentors by name. (First, there are many, and second, just because I like being associated with them doesn't mean they enjoy being publically connected to me.) I will say that each of these mentors taught me lessons about how to be collegial, how to interact with my peers in a way that is both co-mentoring and academically productive. These professors made themselves vulnerable to me and, by allowing me into their lives, invited me to practice co-mentoring.

I see this co-mentoring as part of my current job, so I've been reading up on collaborative/co-mentoring approaches to writing program administration. But the question I keep returning to is the one about graduate students and collegiality. How do we, as WPAs, promote the kind of relationships our students will be expected to fill when they are junior faculty? Individual advisors can contribute a great deal, but everyone knows someone whose advisor left them in the dust. (A sad but true fact of working with academics: They're busy people with busy schedules, and sometimes things get left behind.) I think Graduate Student organizations can help scaffold experiences to improve collegiality, but my sense is that these organizations focus most heavily on the social over the professional.

I see moves in my current program to support grad student professionalism in innovative and risky ways: students are organizing national conferences, co-authoring articles, co-presenting on conference panels, and are genuinely engaged in program administration. They are practicing the very moves they'll be expected (without any sort of protocol) to enact when they enter their first job. How, then, can I draw forth these relationships in productive ways? What are the most useful (I hesitate to say market-desirable) traits in a new colleague? Knowing these points will help me better craft my graduate student training and better address pre-professional relationship building.

1 comment:

Susan said...

I don't have any clever or sage answers, but I really like the questions. And I'm super happy that you're asking them. I certainly believe in karma, and if you've had good fortune as you've progressed through your academic career thus far, you've given back much good fortune to our program by joining us. Looking forward to exploring answers to your questions together.