Sunday, 1 July 2012

Apparently, There Is a Me in Mentor

Some very kind FSP readers contacted me about nominating me for an AAAS Mentoring Award, and even contacted AAAS to see if they would consider a blogger, and an anonymous one at that. They apparently would, although they want a lot of irrelevant (in my case) information: a list of my real-life mentees etc. I didn't see the point of that and the process seemed like a lot of work for the nominators, so my first reaction was Thanks (very much, really), but no thanks.

But then, on a long flight, when I was experiencing some blog-writing withdrawal and/or the effects of dramamine, I thought "But wouldn't it be kind of interesting to do a test-case, to see how bloggers-as-mentors are perceived?"

I still wasn't sure, and I had to think about it for a while longer. How did writing posts and indirectly helping some people along the way compare to the in-the-trenches real-life mentoring of the face-to-face variety? With blog posts, readers can take them or leave them, use them or not, be interested or not, like me or hate me. There is great potential to be helpful, and little risk of doing harm (other than annoying some people). With a real-life mentor (which I use here as synonymous with advisor), there are many complicated issues involving personalities, money, time, success and failure, and so on. Blogging is easy; mentoring people in real life is much harder.

But I was still intrigued about the idea of comparing bloggers-as-mentors with traditional mentors. For example, how does quantity of mentees enter into the equation? Clearly it is easier to mentor (or at least attempt to entertain) large numbers of people via the blogosphere in just a few years than it is over the course of a career in real life; is that important or not? And are there things that blog-mentors do that real-life ones don't (or, more likely, don't tend to)?

This shouldn't just be about me. If you know of an academic blogger who has been very helpful, I strongly encourage you to consider nominating them for an AAAS Mentor Award. I think it would be excellent if there were a pile of blogger-nominations.

And if you are still reading, please see below for information that two FSP readers have put together for the particular case of possibly considering FSP-the blogger-as-mentor:

A mentor indeed

Every year the AAAS gives two Mentor Awards to "honor individuals who during their careers demonstrate extraordinary leadership to increase the participation of underrepresented groups in science and engineering fields and careers. These groups include: women of all racial or ethnic groups; African American, Native American, and Hispanic men; and people with disabilities.*"

Good mentoring is crucial to a successful academic career (and it is especially difficult for women to find mentors), and we think the impact of good mentoring should be more often recognized and rewarded. Based on our own experience, and the many comments on FSP's most recent post (and over the years), we feel that this blog, and FSP, have provided a valuable mentoring resource to hundreds of people, female and male, academics and not, who needed and used the mentoring advice herein.

So we are nominating FSP for a mentor award Mentor Award, and to do this we need your help.

This collective mentoring (comments from other readers are an integral part of it all) is obviously not what one would traditionally think of as mentoring. But the proof is in the pudding. For us, it worked. The challenge will be to convince the AAAS that this _is_ mentoring. If we succeed, we will have not only thanked FSP for the amazing thing she has done for us all, laboring over this blog five days a week for 6 whole years, but also perhaps encourage others to adopt this model as well and encourage institutions to view mentoring more broadly.

The AAAS's guidelines are perplexingly traditional. They want tables of students (US citizens or permanent residents) that were mentored and completed a doctoral degree. How bizarre -- no mention of postdocs... of junior faculty... Because these don't need mentors? Is it not that the leaky pipeline is most perforated at the higher rungs of the academic ladder? Given that our nomination is already untraditional, we would like to go beyond what the AAAS requests, and provide the _real_ proof for why FSP's mentoring is exceptional. We feel that the proof is the many many mentees, from countries across the globe, spanning different stages of scientific careers. Lets give them the real picture, not the "only US citizen" version of it.

Readers, as mentioned above, we need your help. YOU are the real picture that we are talking about. If you feel that you have gained career mentoring from FSP, please go to and fill in your details, to be used as part of the nomination. Please make it easy for us by putting in as much information as you can, and submitting only one entry. Oh, and the clock is ticking. We have less than one month until the deadline, and we have no way of contacting you to nag about this later, so please fill in the form now. We did it and it took the whole of 1 minute.

Thank you,

Yael ( & John (


* The rest of the description from the AAAS website is: "Both awards recognize an individual who has mentored and guided significant numbers of students from underrepresented groups to the completion of doctoral studies or who has impacted the climate of a department, college, or institution to significantly increase the diversity of students pursuing and completing doctoral studies. It is important to indicate in the nomination materials how the nominee’s work resulted in departmental and/or institutional change in terms of the granting of PhDs to underrepresented students. This can be documented not only with quantitative data, but may also be demonstrated through the student and colleague letters of support.

Such commitment and extraordinary effort may be demonstrated by:

        • the number and diversity of students mentored;
        • assisting students to present and publish their work, to find financial aid, and to provide career guidance;
        • providing psychological support, encouragement, and essential strategies for life in the scholarly community;
        • continued interest in the individual's professional advancement."

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