Mentoring Approaches: A Study in Contrasts

I used to work in museums. And there were generally two ways to break into the field. The first was to work an entry-level job and eventually move your way up. You would spend your first couple of years being an assistant to someone, answering phones, stuffing envelopes, and staffing fundraisers, with the idea being that you would already have your foot in the door when a better job came open. The second was to take on a position of high responsibilities in a tiny, understaffed (because underfunded) organization. That’s the route I took.

I worked on a staff of 4, which became a staff of 3, and then 2, and so I was in way over my head. And with nobody to mentor me because again: understaffed and underfunded.

Hopefully times are different now, because even then, in 2006, when I reached out to the larger well-established museum in town practically BEGGING someone to mentor me, I got no reply. At all.

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Make Career Planning the First Set of Required Courses in Grad School

Yesterday I wrote a brain dump about grad school reform. I think that grad school in the 21st century needs to strike a balance. Right now it’s too immersive. It gives grad students the unrealistic luxury of focusing solely on their craft. It immerses students in a world where the only thing they do is their discipline.

When it comes to working, though, your job may have nothing to do with your craft. And even if it does, often the day-to-day tasks have little to do with your disciplinary expertise.

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Another Thing to Think about for Grad School Reform

I think a lot about what needs to change when it comes to graduate school. I thought a lot about it before I read Leonard Cassuto’s The Graduate School Mess (which is excellent and highly recommended), but I especially have been thinking more and more about it after having read that. Cassuto makes excellent points about what’s broken, how it got to that point, and who is thinking about good ways to fix it. You don’t have to convince me that grad school needs to be reformed. It needed reform back in the day when I did it!

One of the most important points he makes is that graduate schools need to overhaul the curriculum to incorporate professional development writ large. If students are to succeed in any career path, they will need to be taught how. How to find jobs appropriate to their training, how to market their transferable skills, how to interview and succeed on the job.

That’s all true. Grad school reform is long overdue.

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Bite Size Your Job Hunting Strategy

When you are job hunting, you are bombarded with so many decisions. Where to search, what job titles to search for, what geographical area to target, what you’re qualified for, what you want to do. It’s overwhelming.

And we all know that decision fatigue results in analysis paralysis. It’s real, folks. Analysis paralysis is an affliction that most academics suffer from, seeing as we’re smart and trained to follow every research lede, and analyze (ahem, overanalyze) everything.

So step back from job hunting. Have you broken this down into bite-sized chunks yet?

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How to Move Forward When There Is No Up

Let’s take a look at my inbox. A question from a reader is as follows:

My college is – literally – the only higher ed game in town. And so even though I work in a staff job that I generally enjoy, there’s no upward mobility. I’ve been here for 3 years and I’m really ready to take on more challenging assignments. I’m in my early 40s and at a place in my life where I just am not interested in getting another degree (already have 2 Master’s). I’m trying to be patient but I just don’t see it happening. The people who are the next level up from me have been here for at least 8 years. What would you recommend?


I can already hear many of my readers nodding their heads. I know I can relate. In my last organization, I put in 8 years and still wasn’t at the level I wanted to be at. And the people who were in the job title I wanted? They’d been there 10+ years. I had proven my abilities – I had excellent performance reviews and was clearly capable of the next level of responsibilities. There just wasn’t a job above me to be given to me. Ultimately, I wasn’t willing to wait it out yet another couple of years…so I left.

So that would be option one.

Moving on to another organization.

You should do this only after you’ve 1 – made clear your desires to your boss, and 2- made a strong case for your abilities to take on something new. Repeatedly. Because it’s not fair to duck out on a boss / organization if “but I want more challenging work, and I deserve the chance” would be news to them. You need to give them the chance to meet your demands.

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