Academic Mentor’s Expiration Date

Posted by Judy Anne Cavey on May 5, 2011 in , , | No Comments

According to one study, professors have an “expiration date” when it comes to effective mentoring.

A Northwestern University study showed, “…when it comes to counseling, enthusiasm and commitment trump experience.” They found successful educators were great mentors in the first third of their careers, but didn’t do well in the final third. Why? The study’s author, R. Dean Malmgren believes, “They may have had too much on their plates to effectively oversee students or put themselves in their proteges’ places.” But Malmgren confirms mentoring benefits both parties.

I’ll confirm that many academics do have too much on their plates. They are expected to publish papers and books in their field, be on committees, deal with a plethora of politics, effectively master the art of teaching larger classes, attend staff development workshops, have office hours, worry about budget cuts–and be mentors. Is it no wonder many are probably too burned out to be effective mentors? But, don’t assume just because a professor has been teaching for decades they won’t be a great mentor. Some new professors are preoccupied with making a good impression and spend too much time schmoozing. Being a good mentor depends on the person, and whether they take their responsibility to heart.

What should you do as a student, since the expiration date isn’t stamped on your professors forehead? Find out from other students who, of their professors, are good mentors. When approaching your favorite professor, don’t assume they’re able to take on another mentee, ask if they have time to devote to the task. Please don’t approach them before class unless they ask you to do so. If you leave a message for them, understand they may not get back to you quickly, especially if they’re Associate Faculty who teach part-time, usually at more than one college.

Always make appointments unless told otherwise. Be aware of how you spend time with your academic mentor–have questions written down, take note of their answers–be as brief as possible. Discuss in your first meeting what you hope to do with your degree, ask for suggestions if you’re not sure. Find out the pros and cons of your field from them. They may have contacts you could use for informational interviews and networking when you’re ready to seek employment.

The knowledge you gain from your academic mentor is valuable, be appreciative that they are giving you their time.