The Benefits of Informal Mentoring

As I transition into my first year on the tenure-track, I continue to create and sustain relationships with mentors in various positions within the academy and at different institutions. Most importantly, I learned that mentors come in all forms and that many mentors come from unexpected places. This last piece I learned while participating in the National Women’s Studies Association Women of Color Leadership Project in November 2014 from Dr. Kaye Whitehead. And yet, I should not be surprised as the informal and formal mentors that have entered my life do not fit within a narrow mold.

My mentors range from senior scholars (read: full professors and associate professors) to junior scholars (read: those further along the tenure-track than myself) and peers (read: members of my tenure-track cohort, postdocs, and folks I knew from graduate school). I realize the categories are imprecise and if I unintentionally offended anyone, my apologies. However, it is important to realize that one should have mentors (peer-to-peer, junior-to-senior) to allow for a wide range of reciprocal learning.

I should emphasize that mentors not only come from unlikely places, they also do not solely exist in the formal mentoring spaces that I discussed earlier this week. Rather, I have met countless mentors along the way as I transitioned from my status as a master’s student to PhD student/candidate to postdoc to tenure track faculty member. These individuals and I crossed paths at conference, via introductions through other colleagues/friends, and because I just asked for their advice. For example, I am thankful for individuals like Kim Park Nelson, Eleana J. Kim, Tobias Hübinette, Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, and Liz Raleigh for bringing me under their academic wings when I first met them in 2007 as I researched and wrote my master’s thesis. Witnessing the beginnings of the field of Korean Adoption Studies is an impactful moment that I will not forget. Their mentoring, friendship, and kindness resulted in my current connections with a cohort of scholars in the fields of Adoption Studies and Asian American Studies.

I also continue to forge friendships with colleagues across disciplines. These relationships are critical when seeking feedback from perspectives outside of one’s own field. They bring a wealth of experience and new teaching strategies. It’s also refreshing to hear about how they facilitate discussion or deploy active learning in the classroom because someone in modern languages or chemistry will use methods that may benefit me in my humanities classroom.

If I could name everyone who has influenced and shaped my scholarship, teaching, and service, I would be one of those people at the Golden Globes or Oscars having the music play while I still am talking. Their cumulative friendship and mentorship has been meaningful and significant. I hope I can only do everyone justice as I continue to pay it forward.

As you consider your mentoring needs, I suggest that you develop a list of questions concerning research, teaching, service, the job market, etc. and contemplate who would be the best person out of your network to ask. And remember, mentors come in all shapes and sizes. Don’t be shocked when some of your best mentors come from unlikely places and those who you think will be kickass mentors end up not being interested in the job.

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