Thursday, August 27, 2009

Questions that I had forgotten were questions

I was speaking to a fellow grad student who will remain nameless in a program (not here) that will remain nameless whose advisor has been, shall we say, kind of hands-off.

A situation arose in which Grad, who, despite assiduous badgering, had not received any substantive feedback for more than a year, was suddenly given a deadline by which to make a lot of deep changes. When Grad mentioned the whole year-of-no-feedback thing, Advisor pulled the old I Will Not Spoonfeed You, as if timely, substantive comments on drafts were an whiny crybaby thing to expect from an advisor.

Okay, so that was my encounter with a failure in mentorship today, fortunately for me not first-hand. (My committee is, in fact, awesomely on top of things.)

I got kind of steamed up about Grad and Advisor, because I think that thinking of basic mentoring as "spoonfeeding" is classist, irresponsible, and unrealistic. There is such a thing as spoonfeeding, but telling students about the profession that they are entering is not it.

It reminded me that mentoring involves tipping people off about things that seem like second nature to you, because they are not in fact normal things in the wider world.

The fact that you hear Christmas music and think "oh yeah, MLA" does not mean that you are normal; it means that you are a strange Gollum-like creature that lives in darkness.

I mean that in a good way.

Conversely, if someone asks you whether MLA is a conference or an association, it does not mean that person is stupid. It means that he or she is still a hobbit.

So I think I'll use this blog space from time to time to record questions that I had forgotten were questions. Hopefully some hapless person on the internet will benefit, and in any case I will remember that academia is not second nature to everybody.

Today's:

Q. What do you call a professor?

A. Conventions vary from school to school, and if an instructor requests a particular name or title, then that's the one to use. But when in doubt, go with "Professor So-and-So." Err on the side of an overly formal title. Since I'm a graduate instructor and first names are the convention for GSIs at Berkeley, I have my students call me Natalia.

1 comment:

skg said...

It reminded me that mentoring involves tipping people off about things that seem like second nature to you, because they are not in fact normal things in the wider world.

Yes.