This is one of the most contentious topics I discuss with academics who are “breaking” alt-ac. That they need to get on LinkedIn. Look. I get it. LinkedIn is of virtually no use to true academics. (Although perhaps that is changing? Someone who is an academic please let me know!) It’s not part of your grad school curriculum, you don’t know any professors on it, AND it’s just a gross “over there” for corporate types, amirite?
Yes and no. Mostly no. And if you’re alt-ac: you are definitely wrong.
I work at a big university, and, like all public universities, we are being pushed ever onward towards online learning. Either because I’m cynical about the efficacy and quality of online learning or because I’ve never been trained in how to create great online learning (likely both!), I’ve been trying to read up a bit on online learners.
The other day I found “What Do Online Students Want? 3 Findings From a New Survey Offer Some Clues” on the Chronicle of Higher Education. Chronicle is often behind a paywall, but here’s the article’s 3 key points:
- Students need to be able to use their phones & tablets for online learning.
- Online students need more career support services.
- Online learners have some regrets about their experiences. Either wishing they had researched more colleges, or learned more about tuition and fees.
I’m not here to talk about online teaching and learning. I’m here to share my reflections on number two: online students wanting more career support services.
I just learned about a really cool new mentoring program. If you follow my blog, you already know that I’m all about the importance of and benefits from mentoring for navigating your career. (It’s valuable both for the mentor AND the mentee!). But hearing about this new program was an excellent reminder that mentoring is not just senior professional to mid or early career professional. The peer to peer mentoring is also key.
The National Initiative on Gender, Culture, and Leadership in Medicine (C-Change) at Brandeis University got a huge grant from National Institutes of Health (NIH) for their peer group mentoring. This involves a “cohort of physician-scientists [who] meet quarterly…to develop their careers through reflective dialogue and skill development in areas necessary for professional advancement.” The peer mentoring approach is critical for a number of reasons.
I can’t say enough great things about how important mentors have been for my career. My sanity, my well-being. They have helped me discover breakthroughs, believe in myself, gain confidence, put myself out there, talk myself down from ledges, shed fear, navigate tricky situations, get out of trouble, the list is endless. Their wisdom their encouragement, their believing in me is a big part of why I started Academics at Work in the first place. A way for me to pay it forward, I guess.
It’s so important that you seek out and have a range of mentors for yourself, and I’ve written about that before. What I want to do today is talk about how important it is that you – yes, YOU – put yourself out there as a mentor to others.
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.
When you’re in the process of researching a potential employer, one of the key things you need to look for is their level of support for professional development.
As an academic, you are really into learning. You will need to keep learning throughout your career to stay engaged. You need a career that will challenge and grow with you. And so you need to get to the bottom of how the organization or team handles professional development.