Mentoring Grad Students: A Revisit

I was looking at my blog posts and see that this one from not quite two years ago is timely. I have taken the liberty of revising the post.

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. Can you 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 and most seasoned graduate students know this.

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 thread on Twitter under the hashtag #NewPhD. These short conversations are interrogating degree programs and what we think needs to change. These are important conversations. We also need to provide more support to graduate students. This includes support for when they need more help. And, this includes protecting them from yes-itis. You can say yes to too many project or overall commitments and then not give any of them the full effort they require.

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 of training them to work with students. 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. Graduate students also have to willingly want to learn and realize that professional development is important. This is the best case scenario–where their institution offers workshops and they have good mentors. We all have stories where things went awry. But, let’s try to make it better for the current cohort of students.