Unconventional Mentors Will Help You Succeed

 herc   June 13, 2017  Faculty Career Advice

Congratulations on your first academic job. Now it’s time to look for a mentor. Your school may match you up with a mentor, or you may be looking for an informal mentor. Either way, a seasoned professor in your subject area is a good fit for advice about the job and the departmental culture, but don’t stop there. Expand your idea of who a mentor should be and what a mentor can do for you, and reap the rewards of a more nuanced understanding of your school and your profession.

Look to Other Disciplines

If you’re frustrated by your salary, expectations of how you spend your time, your teaching load, or any other aspects of your job, don’t just stew in envy over professors in other departments. Instead, find a mentor who enjoys some of the benefits you’d like to enjoy and pick her brain. Of course, salaries and particular duties are often dictated by the market value and restraints of your discipline, but professionals in other fields can provide you with a lot of general career guidance. Perhaps others have a higher salary because they better understand how to negotiate. Perhaps they have more flexibility in keeping office hours because they negotiated virtual office hours with their department chairs. You can also better understand your department’s role and reputation across campus by building these cross-disciplinary bonds.

Look to Your Librarian

Your department should have a liaison librarian. If you don’t already know, find out who that person is and make an appointment. Come prepared not only with any specific requests you may have for help with library services but also with questions about how she’s helped professors in your department previously. Don’t assume that other professors always know what works best–librarians have a different vantage point and can tell you which types of instructional services have been most successful in the past, as well as what type of support the library offers faculty when preparing for promotion. Also ask your librarian if there’s anything she has been wanting to try, either in terms of instruction or collaboration. If you show you are willing to learn from your librarian, she will teach you a great deal.

Look to Administrative Support

If you’re in awe of a particularly adept administrative support professional, don’t be shy about seeking him out as a role model. Administrative staff usually know all the scuttlebutt and are adept at negotiating personalities within the department and with others who have frequent contact. One thing you don’t want to do is overburden someone whom you annoy at your own peril. Be sure to treat this person as you would any other mentor: schedule coffee in advance and know what advice you need. Make sure you are asking for advice and not asking to have a problem solved or work done for you.

Look to Your Peers

If you think of mentors as your support system, don’t forget those who are also new to campus. Especially if you desire a “mentoring session” but don’t have specific problems you need help solving, consider the possibility that you are simply in need of connection. If your university doesn’t offer orientation programs that span across departments, ask some of your other mentors for advice on how to connect with other new faculty members. You may also be able to pick your peers’ brains about particularly helpful mentor relationships they are forming. Who are they connecting with? What kind of interactions are proving most fruitful?

When you are in need of good advice, remember to think about your entire campus. Forging connections across disciplines and the faculty/staff divide can only bring you dividends as your career grows. Unexpected benefits of these unconventional mentorships could be collaborations on cross-listed coursework, new insights into your own work, and stronger institutional ties.

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