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Peer Mentoring: Graduate Women Scholars

I often tell my students that my mentoring does not have an expiration date. It does not. I benefited from some wonderful mentors and I feel indebted to them. I was lucky enough to have a mentor who had the foresight to organize all the women students who knocked on her door. I won’t get the history right here, but essentially she saw that women students wanted similar things from her. So, she decided to get them all together monthly and the group was borne.

I first started attending the mentoring group when I was an advanced undergraduate and continued throughout most of my graduate degrees (two MAs and the PhD). We would meet monthly and discuss issues like: how to put your curriculum vitae together, how to communicate effectively, how to write an abstract for a conference, how to have balance in your life, and so many other germane topics. What worked so well with the group is that it was a conversation. While the sponsoring faculty member had her degrees and experience to share with us, we also had graduate students at all stages of their education participating in the group. We learned from one another.

The rules were simple—we brought food to share and we made sure that when we left there were no dirty dishes or mess in her house. While there we sat around in a circle on the floor or bit of furniture and introduced ourselves and then the topic. We would take a break to eat and then resume the meeting.

We also traveled to different conferences together and this was priceless. Imagine going to your first set of academic conferences with a group of friends! It worked well to see supportive, smiling faces in the crowd or one of your friends sitting at the table next to you, as you presented your research. When I started the PhD program in Political Science, I knew that I had an advantage. I had more professional development skills and really felt more comfortable than most of my cohort. Sure, I had those imposter moments, but then in a few weeks I could visit the mentoring group and have much needed reminders about my qualifications.

I have fond memories of the group and I was quite proud when I was asked to co-facilitate, when I was finishing my dissertation. This particular mentor made mentoring one of her strong suits. I always wondered if I would follow suit and organize a mentoring group. While I haven’t done so, I do occasionally meet students for coffee or have some over my house for dinner or dessert. And, I do miss the group. I wonder in these heady, useful days of social media if the group would still provide the same levels of support? Would we have someone Skype in for a session? We probably would and we would have workshops about effective use of social media for networking, research and teaching.

I know though that I learned many valuable lessons from the group and I will always thank her and the others for that. I always smile when I see emails from other “graduates” of the mentoring group post on the WMST-L or other higher education lists. I remember the days when we were all wide-eyed and chatted about our departments, research or latest breakthroughs. We are now all over the US and even in Canada!

With my mentoring strategies, one thing that I have noted is that I am actively mentoring women and men students and having a woman only group sounds promising to me, but then I remember that I have some pretty great male students who also deserve my time and energy. You really cannot put a price on the cost effectiveness on the mentoring relationship. When it works well it really is priceless.

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