Mentoring Grad Students

I have been having more conversations with graduate students about life after graduate school. Not all of them are interested in the traditional career path in academe. I don’t blame them–the job market for full-time work in higher education is dismal. There is lots of work for contingent (part-time) faculty, but that doesn’t really provide a stable income. I know this well, as for most of my academic career, thus far, I worked part-time. Sometimes this work was between three different departments at three campuses, ergo the term “freeway flyer.”

I do think that we need to be more responsible with our mentoring of graduate students and part of this includes not suggesting graduate school as a viable option to some students. There, I said it. Graduate school is not for everyone; however, some will figure this out on their own. I am referring more so to being honest about the psychic and financial instability of graduate school. Lately, I am seeing more undergraduates entertain what they are referring to more “practical” programs like advanced degrees in Public Administration and even a few are entertaining MBA programs. I think this is a good thing–let them branch out into different degree programs. An advanced degree in Political Science is useful, but it is not the only option.

I have been pleased to see an ongoing threads and hashtags on Twitter #PhDchat #gradchat #NewPhD. These short conversations are interrogating degree programs and what we think needs to change. These are important conversations.

We need to be more honest with our graduate students and make sure that our institutions offers different types of job training or workshops. And, if the student does want to go into higher education, we need to do a better job mentoring. This can be tedious, but meeting one on one with the students is really worth the time. This is part of an ongoing train of thought for me.

Thinking Like a Student

I was lucky enough to participate in a university photo shoot for national recruitment brochures. I had an opportunity to chat with the student “models” during the mock office hours and mock classroom lecture. One of the things that I was struck with was that the students wanted to know what made a student a favorite of mine. I was polite and tried to explain that I do not really think of my students that way. Instead, I think about how I want students to be successful and learn. I really did not understand the question at first. Then, it hit me, they wanted to know what do I like in a student.

I appreciate it when a student is prepared, on time, demonstrates familiarity with the course materials, and current events. I appreciate it when a student is trying and seems to care about doing well for the sake of learning the material or more about Political Science. Do I have favorites, though? I thought about this over the course of the next week, and my first reaction was: no. I still think that I do not have favorites.I have had students announce that he is my favorite student, and usually that student is not. I am not sure why he (the student has usually been a male student) has pronounced this. I have responded with, “I don’t have favorites.” Admittedly, this sort of student is usually a well-meaning, class clown type and is usually poking fun at both of us. I’m OK with this.

I have students who I get to know better by virtue of them taking more courses with me, my honors students, and then the students who I am mentoring in a stronger capacity thanks to office hours, and additional chats. Then, there are the students who have different issues: crises, help navigating support on campus or other issues, and I get to know them better. I think that the students that I know better are the ones who I light up when I see and these students are not favorites, but students who I merely know better. To answer the question: No I do not have favorites. I have students who I know better for various reasons. I do think, though, that the students who have had special circumstances have a special place in my mind, though. They have overcome some hardship and their success means something different to me. These are the students who make me want to tear up in happiness or even anger when things do not go their way. But, this does not make them favorites. Like I said, I do not completely understand the question. I would frame it differently. What makes a student stand out? What type of students do I prefer? Those are questions that make more sense to me, but I do not think like a student. I am on the other side of the table, desk, and classroom.



Continuing the Conversation About Leaning In

Many are still responding to Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. People have both applauded and attacked the book and Sandberg. I was recently catching up on my magazines and read a review in the April issue of the Atlantic and came across Garance Franke-Ruta’s “Miss Education.” Franke-Ruta notes that women are doing a great job in seeking higher education. Women are leaning in at university, but once they leave they fall behind. In short, we do well at school, but when we get our first job we do not negotiate well. I do not really agree with all of her article. Franke-Ruta uses dating as a metaphor. She explains that women are waiting to be noticed or wooed and this is different for men, since they seek out the job and feel more comfortable negotiating their salaries. Many articles and books point out that women do not negotiate their salaries and benefits well or as well as their male counterparts.

What the author is getting at in an interesting if not problematic way is that women are socialized to not negotiate well and to not find work in the same way that men do. This might explain why some 4.2% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women (28). What we might actually need is more leadership training for women, better mentoring programs in university, and in the workplace. Franke-Ruta is correct that education is not the panacea, but it is not just the formal education that is needed, but re-education of peoples’ expectations about women and men. We need better career education and mentoring all along the education and work pipeline. And, we need stop dismissing the career advice in Lean In and other books. They are targeting professional women and we need to embrace the message and not just attack the messenger. These books are clearly not for everyone–which career book is? I am including a screen shot from the article that assesses other similar books. Many thanks to the Franke-Ruta for her provocative review. You can see that these books share one major point: it’s important to ask for a raise.


The Art of Phoning It In

What does it mean to “phone it in.” Generally speaking this means to give something little effort. To phone it in means that you made an attempt to do something. This does not mean that you tried hard, as you merely phoned it in. There are the occasional work outs that I phone in and hopefully get inspired to do more half way through the work out. There are days at work when I phone it in at a meeting or go through the motions, when I am not feeling well. However, I do not make a habit of doing this, as my job is too important to me to do this. Plus, students are smart. They know when a professor is phoning it in, and frankly, they do not like it. Can I blame them? This is my job. But, alas, I have expectations for them, too.

When do you phone it in?

I’m done teaching for about seven weeks and I am thinking about the last school year and the moments when I have phoned it in or when my coworkers or students phone it in. People say that Cs and Ds earn degrees, while this is true these sort of grades do not normally expedite getting jobs. Some students are clearly going through the motions, and I understand that. Some students do not want to be at the university or are not ready to do the work. But, there is something to say about a focused, hard worker who might have those occasional moments of phoning it in, but does not make a habit of phoning it in at work. Yes, I am saying that school is work. Students learn critical thinking, writing, time management, and hopefully get opportunities to collaborate with classmates. School is work and work is school. Success in university does not necessarily correlate into success off campus, and many college drop outs in the tech industry can attest to this. But, I have a word of advice for the rest of us:

Do not phone it in.

The photo below is a beautiful cake made my Real Food Made Easy, @toots11, Janice Mansfield. She never phones it in!


Some of You Will Like Me

Another term is ending for me and one theme that stands out for me is part of a lecture that I gave my students in my American Politics class. (The department renamed the course United States Politics, but my default over twenty years is American Politics. I know, I’m exercising American exceptionalism here or you can accuse me of that). The lecture was a primer one on how to do well on the assignments and I spoke to critical thinking and need for a higher level of analysis. I also advised them to come see me in my office hours. Then, I did something that I do not normally do. I referred to that site that allows people to rate instructors. You know which one that I am referring to–don’t you? It is like Voldemo…you cannot say the name!

The reason I referred to the site, as I explained to my students was that the last time I had quickly reviewed my ratings, I noted one person say that it is important to get me to like you. I recall having a quick laugh and smiling for the next twenty minutes, as this is not true. I told the students in my class, “I like all of you. The difference is that some of you will like me back.” I explained that my life is quite full and I am content. I also shared with them that my teaching philosophy statement notes that I am not in the habit of chasing the 5, which is the perfect score on our teaching evaluations. Yes, I had included this sentence in my dossier for a teaching award, the Faculty of Social Sciences Excellence in Teaching. I was honored to get the award! Back to my comments to my students, I was extremely honest with this group and later left the classroom feeling satisfied with this moment of brutal honesty.

The fact that a person or some people would think that instructors only “give” good marks to students that they like is false. Trust me, I have run the Excel equation and said, “Oh, no.” This is that moment when you really want a student to do well, but one assignment or two assignments sealed their mark with a C or worse. You feel for the student, but there is nothing you can do. Ultimately, what I told my students is that I try to have an open mind and that many of them come from various places across the province and some out of province. Regardless of where they are from there is a whole host of different views and more importantly different abilities with writing, thinking, and success with the work of being a student. I also explained to them that they will perform better in courses that they are interested in and should try to take courses that appeal to them. Then, they need to show up. Go to class, go to office hours, and get to know their instructors or Teaching Assistants. I even referrred to Wil Wheaton’s comments in a high school yearbook and he said the same thing: go to class, go to office hours. I agree with him. (Hey, follow him @wilw). In my opinion, it is not a matter of my liking you. No, it is about my assessment of the work and hopefully seeing an improvement through the term. This puts a smile on my face. It is great to write on the assignment: your work has improved, bravo!

The students who I mentor or coach I get to know better and subsequently do like them in a different way. I have had more opportunities to get to know them. And, I must say here that I have mentored more students who hold political opinions that are quite different than my own. My mentoring or teaching does not take this into consideration. Most years, I find that I am mentoring an equal number of women and men students; even though our campus is 60% women and 40% men. Overall, I would be hard pressed to say that I dislike a student. No, I am more apt to feel a negative thought about a colleague in another unit, who pontificates about how teaching is beneath us or questioning my presence on Senate as a teaching focused professor. These sort of statements rub me the wrong way.

I have a special place in students’ lives. I am part of their college experience. I can be a mentor or coach. I get to work with them and I think that is an honor. I do, but today I have 70 items to mark so it feels somewhat burdensome, but overall I think that I am in a great place. I was reminded of this last night when I attended a former student’s wedding. I had met her parents before, but to hear that to this day she still talks about my classes–I was touched. Over the course of my career, I have met many siblings and have taught all the siblings in several families and have had coffees to meet my students’ babies. Like I said, I am lucky and know that some of my students will like me. The tumbler below is from a former student. She has also worked with my kids–it is a small community. I wish her luck with what is next!


Helpful Info for Women in Political Science

Orgs, Books and More!

CPSA: (French:

Société Québécoise de Science Politique:

APSA, Women’s Caucus for Political Science: (Organization webpage:

ISA—Feminist Theory and Gender Studies:

WPSA, Caucus for Women and Gender Justice: (Organization webpage:


Eduseed: Promoting Higher Education Among Historically Disadvantaged Communities:

Mama Phd (IHE):

Ontario Womens Liberal Commission:

Sister Mentors: Promoting Higher Education Among Women and Girls of Color:

The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Fear of Feminism:

Gay Mentors in Modern Academe:

Rejection and Its Discontents:

Self-Sabotage in the Academic Career:

The Professor Is In:

The Thesis Whisperer

Tomorrow’s Professor:

TP Msg. #1259 Motherhood: How Faculty Manage Work and Family

TP Msg. #1250 Let’s Make a Deal—Six Myths About Job and Salary Negotiations

TP Msg. #1241 The Chair’s Role in Facilitating a Collegial Department

University of Venus (Inside Higher Education):

Women in Higher Education:

Women Suffrage and Beyond: Confronting the Democratic Deficit:

WMST-L Archives

Journals of Interests and Journal Articles

Cambridge Journal of Education

Gender and Education

International Feminist Journal of Politics

Journal of Feminist Scholarship

Journal of Women, Politics & Policy

Politics and Gender

The Review of Higher Education

Women’s Studies in Communication

Acker, Sandra, and Grace Feuerverger. “Doing Good and Feeling Bad: the work of womenuniversity teachers.” Cambridge Journal of Education 26, no. 3 (1996): 401-422, doi: 10.1080/0305764960260309.

Bower, Glenna G. “Gender and Mentoring: A Strategy for Women to Obtain Full Professorship.”

Collins, Gail. “‘The Feminine’ Mystique at 50.” New York Times, January 23, 2013.

Elley-Brown, Margaret J. “The Significance of Career Narrative in Examining a High-Achieving Woman’s Career.” Australian Journal of Career Development 20, No. 3 (Spring 2011): 18-23, doi: 10.1177/103841621102000304.

Gaze, Beth. “Working Part Time: Reflections on Practicing the Work – Family Juggling Act.” Law and Justice Journal 1, no. 2 (2001): 199-212.;dn=755722715628569;res=IELHSS.

Goeke, Jennifer, and Emily J. Klein and Pauline Garcia-Reid and Amanda S. Birnbaum et. al. “Deepening Roots: Building a Task-Centered Peer Mentoring Community.” Feminist Formations 23, no. 1 (2011): 212-234.

Kreider, Tim. “The ‘Busy’ Trap.” New York Times, June 30, 2012.

Mills, Melanie Bailey. “Intersections between Work and Family: When a Playpen Can be Office Furniture.” Women’s Studies in Communication 31, no. 2 (Summer 2008): 213-217, doi: 10.1080/07491409.2008.10162535.

Samek, Alyssa A. and Theresa A. Donofrio. “‘‘Academic Drag’’ and the Performance of the Critical Personae: An Exchange on Sexuality, Politics, and Identity in the Academy” Women’s Studies in Communication 36, no. 1 (2013): 28-55, doi: 10.1080/07491409.2012.754388.


Armstrong, Sally. Ascent of Women. New York: Random House, 2010.

Baker, Maureen. Academic Careers and the Gender Gap. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2012.

Cote, James E., and Anton L. Allahar. Ivory Tower Blues: A University System in Crisis. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007.

Evans, Elrina, and Caroline Grant, eds. Mama PhD: Women Write about Motherhood and Academic Life. New Brunswick. N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2008.

Jalalzai, Farida. Shattered, Cracked, or Firmly Intact?: Women and the Executive Glass Ceiling Worldwide. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.

Krull, Catherine and Justyna Sempruch, eds. A Life in Balance? Reopening the Family-Work Debate. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2011.

Newman, Jacquetta, and Linda A. White. Women, Politics, and Public Policy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Noddings, Nel. Happiness and Education. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

Noddings, Nel. The Maternal Factor. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2010.

Osbord, Tracy L. How Women Represent Women. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Robinson, Ken. How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. New York: Penguin, 2009.

Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. New York: Knopf, 2013.

Valian, Virginia. Why So Slow?: The advancement of women. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999.

Twitter Handles to Follow (Working List!)

@AMaioni Antonia Maioni, President of Congress, McGill, Political Science

@ideas_idees Federation

@ATRWibben Annick T.R. Wibben, University of San Francisco, International Studies

@janniaragon, UVIC, Political Science

@partnershipuvic, UVic Corporate Relations

@JLisaYoung, Lisa Young, Dean of Graduate Studies, University of Calgary, Political Science

@OrsiniMichael, Michael Orsini, University of Ottawa, Political Science

@ChristineNLewis, Christine Lewis, Congress Coordinator, UVic

@UA_magazine, University Affairs, Ottawa, ON

@EmmMacfarlane, Dr. Emmett MacFarlane, University of Waterloo, Political Science

@uvicpoli, Uvic, Political Science Dept.

@pmlagasse, Philippe Lagasse, University of Ottawa, Political Science

@thedaleykate, Kate M. Daley, York University, Political Science (PhD Candidate)

@geoffsal, Geoff Salamons, University of Alberta, Political Science (PhD Candidate)

@Mireille2013, Mireille Paquet, University of Montreal, Political Science (PhD Candidate)

@SuleTomkinson, Sule Tomkinson, University of Montreal, Political Science

TED Talks

Huffington, Arianna. “Arianna Huffington: How to succeed? Get more sleep.” Filmed December 2010. TED video, 4:11. Posted January 2011.

Katz, Jackson. “Jackson Katz: Violence against women—it’s a men’s issue.” Filmed November 2012. TED video, 17:41. Posted May 2013.

Koyczan, Shane. “Shane Koyczan: “To This Day” … for the bullied and beautiful.” Filmed February 2013. TED video, 12:04. Posted March 2013.

Lemmon, Gayle Tzemach. “Gayle Tzemach Lemmon: Women entrepreneurs, example not exception.” Filmed December 2011. TED video, 13:16. Posted January 2012.

Pierson, Rita. “Rita Pierson: Every kid needs a champion.” Filmed May 2013. TED video, 7:48. Posted May 2013.

Robinson, Sir Ken. “Ken Robinson: Changing education paradigms.” Filmed October 2010. TED video, 11:41. Posted December 2010.

Sandberg, Sheryl. “Sheryl Sandberg: Why we have too few women leaders.” Filmed December 2010. TED video, 14:58. Posted December 2010.

Stokes, Colin. “Colin Stokes: How movies teach manhood.” Filmed November 2012. TED video, 12:53. Posted January 2013.

Zimbardo, Philip. “Philip Zimbardo: The demise of guys?” Filmed March 2011. TED video, 4:47. Posted August 2011.

Many thanks to Ms. Sylvia Alves for her assistance in curating this array. This is a draft and please share, but note that this is from the two of us!

Faculty In Residence: Part 1

I was contacted this Summer by the Student Residence Program to find out if I wanted to participate in this new program on campus: Faculty In Residence. What this entails as far as I know, is meeting with students who live on campus and discussing different topics. The time commitment is up to me. This project will have students meet professors in a non-classroom environment.

I’ve participated before in talks to students who live in residence, which were more informative talks about research or how to be a good student. This initiative though is meant to get the students to establish a better or perhaps different relationship with faculty. Perhaps–demystify the professor. I don’t know everything about the initiative, but I did agree to it. As I have repeatedly blogged about, mentoring is my mandate and I take mentoring and coaching students and peers seriously. I also have mentors and friends who I go to, so mentoring/coaching never really ends.

And, to the students who suggested me for this program, I thank you.

This short post is one of hopefully several about the Faculty in Residence program.