Many of us are (or feel like we are) the only people doing disability studies in our departments, colleges, or universities. This can make it challenging to enter the field as a graduate student, to move toward tenure as an assistant professor, and to regularly participate in scholarly discussions as a “senior” scholar. It also raises issues for non-tenure track faculty, who may want to talk about their work but do not have the intellectual structure to do so in their colleges and universities.
Enter mentoring! On this site, various types of mentoring relationships are imagined:
~ graduate student – faculty
~ pre-tenure – post-tenure faculty
~ peer mentoring at all levels (student, community college, university)
Having a mentor through our organization has been immensely helpful to me. More than anything I feel as though it has boosted my confidence in the academic world. My mentor is willing to help me with my writing and my teaching. She wrote an official evaluation of my work for my tenure application. This was beneficial not only for my tenure portfolio but for my overall teaching as well.
Knowing that I have someone I can turn to when I have questions, anxiety, doubts, or successes could not be more valuable in a mentor relationship. I feel like I have found that.
Getting to be a mentor, and be mentored, through this program has had positive effects for me in many different areas. The most important for me is just knowing that I have people in my corner–and this is true in each of my mentoring relationships, whether or not I’m nominally the “mentor” or the “mentee.” These are people whom I go to with questions large and small, with moments of embarrassment or requests for reality checks. Although the whole DS-rhet/comp community is quite welcoming, in my experience, having people who are designated as “part of my group” for this purpose really helps me feel validated and empowered to seek assistance when I need it.
There have been surprising professional benefits two. With Melanie and Elizabeth, and several other contributors, I ended up proposing a panel for Computers & Writing that eventually grew into a webtext for Kairos–and even won an award. When I visited OSU to give a talk, I was able to spend an hour chatting with Elizabeth, who helped put me at ease and made the details of my visit much easier–and the same happened with Melanie when I visited the University of Michigan, in collaboration with Stephanie Kerschbaum, to give a workshop.
I was already fairly well established when the mentoring program was begun, but I can imagine that for someone just starting in the profession, it would be an invaluable resource, especially for the kinds of professional activities that can be hard to come by in graduate school–forming panels for conferences, getting feedback on weird genres like job letters and grant proposals, and that sort of thing. I love our mentoring program, and I hope other professional societies that don’t have one pick it up as a model–I think it works well.
I’m happy to share my experience as someone who both has a mentor and is a mentor because it really has been transformative—and in ways that are not always visible in typical ways we represent our work, say, on a CV. What I mean is that being a part of a mentoring relationship has helped me feel a part of the community of teachers and scholars in Disability Studies and Rhetoric. I’ve been able to ask my mentor questions that are typically silenced in academe, but that DS scholars understand. I know I’ve asked, for example, how to keep my energy up during on-campus interviews. And in the early stages of my dissertation planning, I asked for a frank opinion on which of two directions would be better. My mentor not only weighed in, but she sent me a copy of her own dissertation. Throughout graduate school and now into my role as a faculty member, having a mentor who is knowledgeable about my specific research area and who is outside of my institutional chain-of-command, so to speak, has been both a great intellectual and emotional support.
While I’m early into my role as a mentor, I’ve enjoyed forming a relationship with someone at an institution very different than my own. It’s been rewarding to introduce her to colleagues in the field and to the texts that are current and foundational to work in Disability Studies and Rhetoric, especially because I don’t work with graduate students on a daily basis.
What I’ve liked most about my mentor-mentee relationship is that it’s more of a peer-to-peer relationship and we’re at such different types of schools. I just feel like I’ve learned so much about our field, in addition to feedback on my work.
(1) When I started, I signed up and agreed to be a mentor even though I felt I really needed to be a mentee, as someone who was in a new tenure-track faculty position. However, after being gently nudged and reminded that mentorship wasn’t about passing on fonts of wisdom but rather, about building relationships in the field and supporting one another in ways that we can, I have found the program to be an invaluable avenue towards getting to know colleagues across the country in ways I never would have otherwise.
(2) The opportunities to read and respond and have readers/responders for my work through the mentor/mentee program have been tremendous. I’ve been able to get feedback from amazing thinkers as well as be in position to learn from the people producing work at the cutting edge of the field.
(3) The people I’ve been paired with in the mentor-mentee program have become some of my closest friends in the profession, and I’m deeply thankful to the Standing Group on Disability Studies for building the structures that have helped foster these relationships.
I think that the connections I’ve made through the mentor program contributed to the successful completion of my PhD. As someone working in disability studies in an English department, I often felt a bit isolated. Simply imagining that my mentor and I had the same books and articles stacked on our desks offered me comfort, solidarity, community. We shared similar values and goals for our field and talking with one another, affirming one another, and helping build our ideas offered such a sense of validation and support–I can’t emphasize enough the positive impact this experience has had on my work, my mental fortitude as an academic, and my feeling of belonging.
Almost three years ago at the 2012 CCCCs Disability SIG, I found my home. As a new PhD student in an English Studies program, finding a niche and a specialization proved to be quite the challenge. I had interest in disability rhetoric before my first SIG, but I didn’t know disability. I didn’t understand the important and necessary work that the field was doing, and I didn’t know how to embody the position of a disability studies scholar-in-training. In a way I still don’t know, but if I did, if I believed in certainty and easy answers, I wouldn’t have chosen (or did it choose me?) this field.
I learned about the mentoring program at that first meeting; about how the group’s leaders would match a mentee with a mentor who had a bit more experience and knowledge to share about the field. I left the meeting with the mentoring form, but I kept waiting for the feeling of hesitation to fade away before sending it along. In the meantime, I followed the DS-RHET listserv and I soaked up the discussions. After months of listening to such smart, honest, inviting and passionately questioning disability scholars, I became sure of my connection with the field and excited about the work I could be doing. I declared disability rhetoric as my specialty even though disability studies wasn’t “officially” a field at my university. That is when I took the initiative and decided to be a part of the mentoring program. One disability scholar-teacher’s posts on the listserv regarding disability and memoir caught my attention. She was asking for some suggestions for the list she was putting together for the disability rhetoric website, and for the first time I became a participant on the listserv and posted my suggestions. I received a personal thank you from her and she included my recommendations with the others. Her acknowledgment made me feel important in some way, a contributor to a body of knowledge that would continue to grow. I asked her to be my mentor and even though she had never met me and read any of my work she said yes.
Since that yes, my mentor and other brilliant and generous members of the CCCCs Disability SIG, has supported my work on disability, rhetoric and pain through encouraging emails, reading drafts of conference proposals and seminar papers, and helping me breathe when the stress became too much and the doubt grew too heavy. Gradually my mentor also became a friend and now she is a committee member on my dissertation. She has taken the time to introduce me to other amazing scholars in the field, to present with me at conferences, to guide me with the development of my own pedagogy and to freely share her resources and her knowledge with me. I found similar encouragement and support from everyone involved with the mentoring program.
In the beginning, when I mentioned finding a home at that first CCCCs SIG meeting, I meant home in quite an expansive manner. The Disability Studies SIG is my disciplinary home, my community, and my strength. Thank you.