Dr. Deborah Treise
UF College of Journalism and Communications
2009-2010 UF Doctoral Mentoring Award Winner
They say in academia that you learn how to be a mentor from the experience of your own mentor relationship. I was blessed with not just one, but two mentors in my doctoral studies. I applied for doctoral programs as a single mother of two young sons, so potential advisors at various programs were skeptical of my chances for success with that added responsibility. But then I met my eventual mentors, and they approached their task with one common thought – they believed in me. Through that belief, they helped me see that role models in academia can encompass both compassion and high standards. It took years to reflect and realize just how much their guidance has meant to me — so much, in fact, that a couple of years ago, as a tribute, I sent them both the book “Tuesdays with Morrie,” an account of author Mitch Albom’s relationship with his own mentor and the lessons and values that were passed on to him. From their guidance I changed and prospered. So now I attempt to pass on to my advisees the same support and lessons learned.
Lesson one: Mentoring doctoral students is a commitment — a serious commitment of time, emotion, guidance, handholding, support, nurturing, and yes, sometimes butt kicking. You have to be ready for that. I understand and embrace these responsibilities.
Lesson two: Because each student is different, my approach is different based on a number of issues, including my understanding of the circumstances from which they come — meaning my role as a doctoral student advisor is multi-layered and complicated in many ways. But what is the same is that I always approach each student with a belief in their ability to succeed. It’s not a question of qualifications; they wouldn’t be in our program if they weren’t good. But they are facing a new role in their lives, so my first job as their advisor is to build their confidence because that is critical for their growth. That confidence comes, in part, from being clear about expectations on both sides.
Next, we work on the appropriate role for both of us in this relationship, understanding that it will change throughout their program. While at first, my role might be more of advocate and guide, later it may morph into one of collaborator. Another crucial part of mentoring is to help develop doctoral students into independent researchers. From the research questions they are considering through the classes they take, all roads must lead to developing sound scholarship. Making sure that my mentees leave with significant teaching experience and teaching training is equally important in a professional college such as mine.
Lesson three: Successful advising is a constant balancing act dictated by a number of things. For example, I feel it’s important to help students deal with the stresses that accompany academic life, but also it’s equally important for them to understand that this is a realistic picture of what to expect in the future. I help them understand how to strike a balance between independence and willingness to ask for help when needed. Some I feel I must push; others must be pulled back to help them regroup. I teach them how a good advisor is available, but they shouldn’t take advantage of that availability. How an advisor is there to both teach them and learn from them. From me, and perhaps by example, I hope they also learn how to develop a strong work ethic, but also how to take time out to build support networks.
Lesson four: Producing successful doctoral scholars, teachers and colleagues requires consistent contact. On a day-to-day basis, how do I accomplish that? Each week I meet individually with each of my students to keep up with their progress on any number of issues, to set goals and to have meaningful intellectual and social discussion. I serve as an early, in-house reviewer of their conference and journal submissions. Sometimes when students are new to the conference presentation milieu, we schedule practice presentations to help with clarity, timing, presentation materials and just overall confidence. Near the end of their studies, I work with them on the entire job search process. We review their proposed teaching and research presentations and conduct mock interviews, asking the questions I know they will be asked. To help them network, at conferences I make certain that I introduce my advisees to all of my colleagues across the country. I perform all of these functions for my own advisees; however, in my position as graduate dean, I often do the same things for many other doctoral students in the college.
Final lesson: Mentoring is a long-term commitment that doesn’t necessarily end when the students leave UF. In some cases they become collaborators and co-authors. Still others may become colleagues at some point. In other cases they are spokespeople for our program so they stay closely tied. Usually they become life-long friends. But in all cases, I’m confident that my advisees feel comfortable and encouraged to come to me with problems and questions long after they graduate. I believe in my mentees, and hopefully it shows in the way I interact with them — in much the same way as my advisors treated me, with confidence, respect and kindness.