Understanding and enacting my FULL purpose in the academy

I have lost count of the times that I’ve been invited into a space to share my scholarship⁠—recent advances in my teams’ understanding of the acclimation of plants or cyanobacteria to their local environment or my recent insights into meaningful mentoring, leadership, or institutional transformation⁠—that I’ve also had intentional interactions with Black women scholars around BEING and BEING WHOLE in academic spaces.

These interactions and conversations happen when I’m stopped in corners of exhibit halls, convention centers, or hotel lobbies. They happen over coffee, lunch, or dinner when I’m invited to share space and conversations by these Black women scholars and other young women⁠—women who have been waiting to see themselves represented as speakers on the “big stage” or in leadership and expert consulting roles.

I’ve come to embrace thatin addition to my scientific purpose of exploring interesting and relevant science questions and contributing to scientific advances, as well as engaging in the efficacious mentoring of junior colleagues and innovative academic leadershipmy full scholarly purpose also encompasses the mentoring moments [or episodic mentoring] and ongoing mentoring that occurs from encountering junior women scholars of color.

I currently work on a large research campus and I’ve increasingly noticed that these engagements are also happening locally.

As a first and only in so many of the stops along the trajectory of my own professional journey, I recognize how rare such opportunities can be for young Black women and other women of color to encounter and actively engage with senior women of color in academic circles. So, I fully embrace these opportunities and recognize that MY FULL PURPOSE in the academic spaces I inhabit spans scientific and representational contributions.

In embracing my FULL purpose, I hope to contribute in some meaningful way to these scholars also walking fully into their own purpose. The academy needs these women and their brilliant contributionseven when the very academy that needs them can’t always see, affirm, cultivate, acknowledge and reward the priceless contributions that will be made.

As always, if you have thoughts on this or other posts, find me on Twitter at @BerondaM.

National Mentoring Month 2020: Joy…and contemplation

It’s National Mentoring Month and the concentrated focus on and celebration of mentoring brings me joy. There are rich discussions of the definition(s) of mentoring, meaningful enactment, and acknowledgements of the hard work of dedicated mentors being carried out in physical and online spaces (see #NationalMentoringMonth for Twitter-based discussions).

This National Mentoring Month followed the recent release of the NASEM’s (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine) consensus study report on The Science of Effective Mentoring in Science, Technology, Engineering, Medicine, and Mathematics (STEMM) in late 2019. This report and the accompanying online guide have a wealth of information based on mentorship literature, the thoughtful input of multiple mentoring scholars and experts on inclusive/equitable mentoring, and suggestions for effective implementation.

While I’m encouraged and inspired by ongoing discussions far and wide on the importance of impactful mentoring, I’m also contemplating some ongoing discussions and initiatives related to “mentoring” of minoritized and marginalized scholars in academia. There is growing interest in developing mentoring programs designed to increase diversity among the student ranks and of university faculty. Many of the initiatives focus on recruiting and supporting individuals from underrepresented backgrounds as they enter and transition into graduate programs, postdoctoral training, and ultimately the faculty ranks.

What I’ve been evaluating and contemplating is how many of these efforts still are firmly embedded in, advancing, or are aligned with deficit-based perspectives of the individuals from “diverse” backgrounds whom they seek to recruit and “support”. The deficit perspective – i.e., that you recruit individuals who need targeted or special guidance and assistance in how to “fit in”, survive, and have success in “high performing” environments – is undoubtedly still strongly at play in academic environments, especially at the student level as strongly invoked in most “leaky pipeline” analogies of poor preparation, low performance, ill fit, etc. We are strongly drawn to stories of persistence and grit of minoritized colleagues, which focus on individual traits of making it through a tough system without us asking questions of systems’ fallibility, pipeline blockages, or structural deficits.

These issues of focusing on deficits extend beyond students and also permeate approaches to diversifying the faculty ranks. What is less clear to me is whether there is a sufficient focus on whether the programs that are being deployed are structured as one more hurdle for a minoritized or marginalized person to jump over to show that they are “worthy” of long-term place in a community. Or, alternatively, I ponder whether these efforts are being thoughtfully and intentionally advanced with an equal chance to ask whether there is something in the environment(s) impeding the establishment and flourishing of individuals from a diverse range of backgrounds.

So while I’m celebrating a focus on mentoring this month, I’m also asking how and WHEN institutions will start to truly ask questions about historic and persistent system failures to attract, cultivate, and retain a diverse faculty from the perspective of probing what environmental failures and dearth(s) in leadership exist which impede supporting the growth of individuals broadly.

I’m also keen to know when there will be earnest questions asked LOCALLY about the lived experience of those from minoritized and marginalized backgrounds who have entered and persisted in particular contexts. While there are certainly inquiries into this nationally and in other ways, the failure to ask locally can lead to the (false) perspective that the lived experiences of some marginalized individuals and groups are bad – but “we don’t have that problem here!” I contemplate frequently whether there is true interest in understanding whether the lived experience of local marginalized individuals (i.e., what represents climate) matches the institution’s or unit’s espoused values and expressed commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (i.e., what represents culture).

We must cultivate the bravery to invite, fully listen to, and reflect on such perspectives, rather than assuming that the persistence of a minoritized or marginalized colleague is a sign of a healthy or supportive environment – or that some significant effort for retaining them has work effectively. A default position that the persistence of minoritized individuals equates to retention will allow institutions to blatantly ignore ongoing environmental or climate issues.

So yes, an opportunity to focus on the importance and power of mentoring during National Mentoring Month brings me joy…but there’s much still to contemplate.

One of the first things I’m contemplating is how radically the conversations would shift if we moved the focus from diversity to equity.

As always, if you have thoughts on this or other posts, find me on Twitter at @BerondaM.

Effective mentors show up healed

Mentoring is hard work, but it can also be challenging to be mentored.

Being mentored requires vulnerability and trust that your mentor is committed to supporting you in YOUR stated goals and aspirations – personal and professional. As recently described in collaborative work with Dr. Stephani Page, this requires that the mentee is actively engaged and provides the mentor with space to grow, openness, active participation, among other things.

Unfortunately, it can be difficult for mentors themselves to enter into mentoring relationships prepared to meet the core needs of mentees, which include personalization, guidance, correction, affirmation, and agency (Figure 1; also see Montgomery and Page, 2018).

Figure 1. Core Needs of Mentees from Montgomery and Page, 2018, https://www.nap.edu/resource/25568/Montgomery%20and%20Page%20-%20Mentoring.pdf

Part of this difficulty arises from the knowledge that mentoring too often takes the form of “imprinting”, or mentors training someone to pattern their behavior and actions after the mentors’ or the norm(s) of a group (Montgomery, 2019). This type of imprinting as mentoring often takes the the form of mentors promoting acculturation or assimilation in STEM and the larger academy (Montgomery, 2019). Unfortunately, this is often enacted as an “assimilate or fail mode” (Paris, 2019, p. 219). Too frequently mentors operating in these frameworks are individuals seeking personal affirmation themselves – confirmation for choices they have made including the paths that they have traversed and the goals that they have set.

Effective mentoring must start from a place of mentors being “healed”, i.e., understanding that their own affirmation and self worth cannot become a “group project” requiring specific personal efforts and actions or affirmation of those that they mentor.

Effective mentors SHOW UP healed and are able to mentor from affirmation not for affirmation.

To be clear, poor or negative mentoring can arise from both GOOD and BAD intention. We too frequently assume such mentoring comes only from bad mentors with bad intent. Certainly bad intention can lead to obviously poor mentoring outcomes such as bullying or exploitation (Figure 2). However, even good intent on the part of mentors can lead to negative mentoring experiences such as taking on mentoring when one is not well positioned or not available to offer meaningful guidance or inputs, or other such outcomes (Figure 2).

typology chart
Figure 2. From “The Science of Effective Mentorship in STEMM”, National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. The Science of Effective Mentorship in STEMM. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25568.
Image from https://www.nap.edu/resource/25568/interactive/mentorship-defined.html#section5

Fortunately, there are many (and continually emerging) options for ensuring that mentors can improve their mentoring skills. One of the latest of these resources is the recent report of the NASEM Committee on the Science of Effective Mentorship – full report now available here.

Fortunately, there is also this summarized advice:

References:

Montgomery, BL (2019). Mentoring as Environmental Stewardship. CSWEP News, 2019(1): 10–12

Montgomery, BL, and Page, SC (2018). Mentoring beyond Hierarchies: Multi-Mentor Systems and Models. Commissioned Paper for National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine Committee on Effective Mentoring in STEMM.

Paris, Django (2019). Naming beyond the white settler colonial gaze in educational research. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 32(3), 217-224.

As always, if you have thoughts on this or other posts, find me on Twitter at @BerondaM