Mentoring Discussion Series Launch

Jesse George-Nichol's picture

Mentoring Discussion Series, Question 1: 

What do you wish you'd known when you were just starting out in the field?

We really hope that a wide variety of scholars will join in this discussion thread and lend advice to their more junior counterparts.  H-SAWH is designed to help female and gender historians connect with and support one another, and we hope that this discussion series will further these goals.

A new discussion question will be posted every other week.  You can suggest a discussion topic or question here.  There are also excellent essays on a wide variety of mentoring-related topics available in H-SAWH's mentoring toolkit.

Keywords: mentoring

I wish that I had known that being a professor is not like being a graduate student.
* You do not have time to read all the new books even in one of your fields. You will try to keep up with book reviews but even that falls off as you keep having more job duties to perform and deadlines to meet. Most of the new scholarship gets skimmed when doing research or preparing a new class.
* The job you get will not be like the jobs your professors had at the R-1 university where you went to grad school. You will most likely (because this is where the vast majority of jobs are) find a job at a regional public university with a 4/4 load. You may or may not have a graduate program even for the MA and so will not have graduate assistants. You will have to teach four classes, mostly core classes, of 75-100 students in each section and do all of the grading yourself. You will have to teach in summer to make extra money to make ends meet. You will only be able to do your own research between semesters.
* You will likely be the only one in your department who knows anything about your specific fields. You may even be the lone US historian. You may not be able to discuss your projects with a knowledgeable colleague until you go to conferences.

There is so much more but I want to hear what others have to say. :-)

Jean Stuntz, West Texas A&M University

I wish I had realized just how costly it would be to do community-based archival research, and the paucity of funding, at the institutional, regional, and state levels for such work. Most of the archives I work with (women's clubs) are held privately and scattered across the state (Florida), so I've become a "road warrior" to follow my research agenda. For the past several years, I have taught online, asynchronous summer courses to fund my research travel. The lack of funding is a real deterrent to tackling larger-scale synthesis projects.

I wish I had understood the scope of "service." It is important to say "no" and, especially pre-tenure, to stay in close touch with your department chair and department mentor (if you have one) about what to say yes to and what to say no to. As an indigenous woman working at the intersection of several fields, colleagues, students, staff, anyone trying to incorporate a bit of material on American Indians into their class or public program or BA thesis or MA thesis or doctoral dissertation committee or campus conversation has called on me and my time (often preferring to use me instead of getting up to speed on the subject themselves, with the well-intentioned purpose to flatter me and my work). It is simply not possible to fulfill all of these requests, though as I learned at a recent mentoring conversation at my own university, there are important opportunities to serve (search committees and university-wide committees are good examples). Those opportunities can not only expand your professional networks and improve your ability to get things done, but they are important opportunities to advocate for others. Not every type of service falls into these categories; when you are asked to help others, consider whether that opportunity meets your own objectives for service--ask yourself what you want to accomplish in your field and for others, and whether this opportunity meets those goals. Because once you spend the time, you can't get it back for your own research and teaching.

You may also end up at a community college.

-The course sizes will be smaller but the number of sections will be higher. The base load for my department is 21 contact hours (or 7 sections) per semester.

- Smaller sections will allow for more personal interactions with students but you will encounter few history majors, as you'll mostly be teaching survey courses for students needing a gen-ed requirement.

- Research won't be a required part of your job, but if you do continue pursuing it, there may be complications. Community college libraries do amazing things with limited resources but you'll probably need to find a nearby university to access all of the resources you need.

-You'll find very dedicated colleagues at a community college, but you may be the only historian. At my college, there are two of us but we serve different campuses so we rarely see each other in person.

- Pay can be a challenge (although I think that's true all around). Summer courses and overload hours can help supplement.

- There is stigma in academia surrounding community colleges and so you may have to deal with this. However, the job can be incredibly rewarding. Also, you'll be employed full-time in your field and have dental and health insurance :)

- Keep in mind that community college teaching positions often require an MA rather than a PhD so it's possible to get a full-time job even before you finish grad school. I found a full-time community college position the semester I defended my dissertation and it was a major relief to know I would be employed. That being said, I wouldn't recommend this to someone unless they were in the end stages of their dissertation as the job does consume a LOT of time.