On The Virtues of Mentoring

Being a new scholar requires guidance, care, and direction, things the Council on Anthropology and Education provides excellently!

This year at the American Anthropological Association annual meeting in Denver I had the opportunity to participate in a wonderfully engaging experience, the Works In Progress session, provided by the Council on Anthropology and Education. Here, junior scholars, those in their first year of “professoring,” and new doctoral candidates were able to share their work with senior scholars in the field, and obtain feedback. Along with the opportunity to share and receive constructive critiques, it was also an opportunity to explore the work of other scholars and consider intersections and interactions of one’s work with the larger academic community. As my advisors have always told me, it is important to consider how my scholarship “enters the conversation” with other scholars, and the Works in Progress session was a great opportunity to think even more deeply in this vein by literally entering into conversation with other scholars.

During my mentoring session, I was lucky enough to have two conversations with two scholars in my field, Dr. Char Ullman of the University of Texas, El Paso, and Dr. Barbara Rogoff of the University of California, Santa Cruz. Along with having the opportunity to meet and interact with such distinguished scholars in my field, I received valuable feedback from both on various points of my studies, which I will outline briefly here:

Dr. Char Ullman:

Provided excellent feedback on the work I was conducting, and its potential connection to a critique of neoliberal policy in education. This is a topic I had very little experience with prior to my AAA experience, and is now an intense fascination for me; partly because of some research data from my dissertation, which explores (albeit not directly) student’s critiques of traditional education processes, and their sometimes deleterious impacts on students in school. Dr. Ullman provided excellent ideas for me to follow up on, including direct sources, and describing other aspects I had not thought of in relation to the topic, such as Indigenous education as a critique of neoliberal policy. See more of her work here at her website.

Dr. Barbara Rogoff:

Provided guidance, support and critique of a paper I sent to her, relating to dissertation research on students participating in an alternative education format (Waldorf education and Waldorf-inspired education.) I was grateful that I was pushed by my advisors to refresh myself on the work of Dr. Rogoff; at first glance, our scholarship might not seem related, since we explore very different fields of action. However, upon reading her papers and abstracts, I could very clearly see the parallels and intersections of our studies. One of the most interesting was a study she conducted examining the experiences of students who had transitioned out of a unique schooling environment, and the collection of narratives regarding their transitions into traditional public high schools. This is almost identical to a study I conducted for my dissertation, though mine occurred in a different schooling context. Both Dr. Rogoff and I reflected on the narratives we collected, noting students describing a sense of preparation from the school that was not evident in the moment of transition. It was remarkable to hear, almost verbatim, the words of another scholar talking about another set of students, in another school in a different context. Along with being intriguing, I was also assured and validated by Dr. Rogoff that the line of inquiry I was pursuing was a positive and beneficial one. Learn more about Dr. Rogoff’s work at her website.

On Mentoring

Along with encouragement and resources, both Dr. Ullman and Dr. Rogoff provide one of the best things a mentor can: a sense of safety, warmth and welcoming. This safety was not without attention to rigor and theory, however; both pointed out the need for me to pay careful attention to discussion and framing of my study, to consider its merits as a neoliberal critique while not losing sight of the significance of what the data was telling me. In other words, the importance of letting the data speak rather than making the data say something that I want it to say.

Both Dr. Ullman and Dr. Rogoff provided gentle direction and guidance for me, and seemed to be interested in supporting my research interests, and less concerned with pushing a particular outcome or research agenda. They seemed interested in letting my research emerge in its own way and time. Together, I was able to find new avenues to pursue, and I can see new directions my scholarship can travel.

Finally, both Dr. Ullman and Dr. Rogoff were adamant about continued connection, and reminded me to stay in contact regarding the status of my work and its completion. Like true mentors, they described a continued interaction, and I feel confident in my ability to get feedback and support from both in the future. I look forward to maintaining contact with them, and hope to be able to build a working relationship with both. They have also inspired me to take part in the mentoring program, and I hope to be able to provide an equal level of support to young scholars when I become established in the future.

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