Many of the women interviewed revealed they had wonderful male mentors who encouraged them and helped them make a way for themselves. And all described becoming mentors to their students and other women colleagues. But it can be more complicated than that. Often women faculty are expected to perform more stereotypical gendered tasks—“academic housework”—such as advising more students, serving on more committees, and teaching more classes. This means less time for research and publishing, the activities that count most towards advancement in academic circles.
What makes a good mentor?
What makes a good mentor? Who has mentored you? Who have you mentored?
At one point, I came up with this small experiment to make sure that the main part that I was doing was actually getting good results. I went to my advisor and I said, “I was worried about this so I tried this other thing on the side.” I was surprised. I thought it was just a little thing, but he said, “wow, that’s a great thing; you’re really demonstrating that you’re thinking about all the problems and trying to do good science.” It kind of stands out in my mind that someone reinforced the fact that I could actually be a scientist.”
Early on I had a woman student knock on my door very gingerly and say, ‘I know you’re busy, but if you can, I’d like to work with you for my Ph.D. I’m not sure I’m good enough to do it. I’m not sure you’d like to work with me.’ I still remember the day she finished her degree and she knocked on the door very hard. She bounded in very confident. She had a job. She was sure she was going to do all right. After she left, I sat back in my chair and said, ‘This is what the University’s all about. It’s mentoring these young students and especially women,’ because I didn’t feel I had that kind of mentoring.
All my friends had told me you have to be really careful because if you’re a nice woman, the students are all going to think that you’re their mother and they’re going to be in your office all the time asking to be mothered.”
I had incredible experiences as a teacher, especially when I taught the honors class for many years. They had a capstone project that was really challenging. I remember at one point I had this feeling like, ‘It’s okay, I can die now because I just have had this incredible experience where I feel like I’ve made a difference, and these students have made such a difference for me in a life-changing kind of way.
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