Monday, July 02, 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."


exPostdoc said...

Interestingly enough, the mentoring that I have obtained from FSP's and other academic blogs has been in the form of inspiring me to get out of the academic track.

Since the end of my PhD and during my first postdoc I have been reading blogs from female postdocs and R1 science professors. The more I read about their (otherwise fascinating) lives, the more I realised that academia was not for me. Until I finally made the transition to a job that balances a bit better my desire to have a life.

I am not sure how my experience can be translated to the context of the AAAS Mentoring Award though... Would this be considered Anti-Mentoring?

David Hughes said...

your back! Yippeee.

Don't leave!

Anonymous said...


A great idea and well-deserved.

I think AAAS needs to think more broadly about mentoring--even old farts like me have benefited from FSPs mentoring (even AAAS Fellows!!)

PS thanks to Yael and John

Mark P

Anonymous said...

The mentoring I receive from being an anonymous lurker on this blog has been infinitely more helpful than than the well intentioned mentoring I have received from my appointed mentors. The two mentors I have been matched with at my university are very busy and often don't have time to give a thoughtful response to my questions. In contrast, FSP always presents her thoughts in a way that encourages differences of opinion and reflection about different approaches to an issue. In addition, I've learned from FSP about many topics about which I didn't even know I should be asking my mentors! I think I have found FSP's mentoring so valuable partly (but only partly) because I am a female tenure-track assistant professor in an otherwise all male engineering department. But more importantly, I value the respectful and thoughtful exchange of ideas that can take place in the virtual world. In the real academic world, I wouldn't ask many of these things - because I would be too afraid to be judged. I don't want to be known in my department as the junior faculty member who doesn't know what's going on. I want my department to think I have it all together at all times. So virtual mentoring has been the most helpful for me in my career. Thank you FSP!

Anonymous said...

Anon at 9:18 said:
I don't want to be known in my department as the junior faculty member who doesn't know what's going on. I want my department to think I have it all together at all times.

I know this feeling all too well. As a tenured engineering professor (female), I can vouch that it doesn't go away after tenure. No displays of weakness are allowed -- this is partly what makes academia such a hostile environment.

Anonymous said...

The "US citizen or permanent resident" part really irks me because there are thousands of foreign students studying in the US and that almost automatically disqualifies mentors who have had mostly foreign mentees. Not to mention that this is a wall which I will personally have to deal with for the duration of my graduate career here in the US because I am neither.

John Vidale said...

(in response to ex-postdoc's comment)

It seems to me that while much emphasis is placed on mentoring to retain people in science, good advice can include jumping to other, more suitable options. Academic rank and citation count is not everything.

I'd object to an advisor trying to shoehorn me into choices that weren't promising for the health of the profession.

Anonymous said...

An interesting aspect of blogger-mentors is that they have no particular stake in the success of their mentees. This means of course that they can't take any credit for the success of their mentees (and they don't even know all or most of them) but it's kind of interesting anyway in terms of how altruistic it is.

Funny Researcher said...

Welcome back !

Anonymous said...

Awesome idea!! Well done!!

Anonymous said...

As an early career female scientist in a small country in Europe, you have helped me a lot.
Many things that you describe don't apply to how things are run here, in this crazy and in many instances corrupt region of the world, but being able to check your posts on a regular basis has provided a dose of guidance and sanity that is really appreciated.

So thank you, thank you, thank you! and please, don't go completely away from the blogosphere. Even if not everyone comments on your posts, there are many of us that would miss you terribly.

Alex said...

Glad to see you blogging again!

I have found your advice very helpful on more than one occasion, so, yes, I think you deserve a mentoring award.

makita said...

Welcome back! I have missed you. Needless to say, although you didn't ask for it, I did fill out the form.

Anonymous said...

Your advice and presence as a sane and obviously happy/contented female science professor have been critical to me through my postdoc and early faculty years. There are so many really negative blogs that make you despair but reading yours has reminded me that there's so much good in this field too. Some of the best mentoring I've had - thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thanks John, this is a great idea. Done.

Should FSP not return to full time duty, perhaps we can build a proper StackExchange group for professional mentorship. I already use that for asking, answering and referring questions at a grad student level in math, physics, latex and others.

With suitable nurturing the community self-organizes to find the trustworthy people. The archiving and searching are also great so nothing is every really lost and repeat questions can be redirected easily.

Anonymous said...


Even if they don't go with it, FSP you have provided a wealth of knowledge that I used myself, and shared with many of my grad student colleagues. I learned more from this blog than I did from many traditional mentors. THANK YOU!

Anonymous said...

Just wrote a letter of reference as a actually made me appreciate the time that faculty members put into writing my references! Was time well spent though, happy to write it.