To hell with mentoring, Hire a Coach! Part 1

Dr. Irma: Visionary & Wisdom Doula and ReInvention Life Coach

After reading a recent article on mentoring and graduate students’ dissatisfaction with their mentors, as well as other trials and tribulations they experienced in finding support and guidance, I say to hell with mentoring, hire a Coach! Here’s what one of my clients wrote in a LinkedIn recommendation after working with me.

I had the privilege of participating in several coaching sessions with Dr. Irma, which were invaluable to me on my leadership journey. Dr. Irma’s depth of expertise in such a broad array of topics – executive leadership; independent consulting; academia; diversity, equity and inclusion – truly set her apart from other coaches that I have engaged with.

Realistic Expectations?

“Teaching graduate students is an oxymoron; we train junior colleagues.”

That statement by a member of my graduate committee in 1987, when I became a graduate student again in my mid-30s, set me on the path of becoming.

I was not being viewed as a “student” hungering for some professor to bless me with wisdom. Instead those words pushed me to see myself as an academic apprentice. I was as much responsible for my own learning as my professors. They were there to be guides for me, and I needed to learn how to use them effectively.

This perspective defined my position in a new way (junior colleague) and gave me a professional identity with agency; whereas if I chose to see myself as “just a grad student,” I was more of a passive receptacle.

Today’s graduate students have unrealistic expectations. This is especially true if they are transitioning directly from undergraduate studies. Many, though not all, have never had a dose of real-world experience. Most seek to replicate their undergraduate relationships with faculty, only to find it doesn’t roll that way.

Author’s photo: At 2006 Annual Caribbean Studies Association’s Tia/Tio (Auntie/Uncle) Mentoring Session

When working with undergraduates as faculty, our role is to nurture and handhold them; we are In loco parentis (“in place of parents)—their parental substitute—at least until most mature and find their social and academic bearings. There are some who never make it, drop out, and may acquire experience, and then return. These older students are a joy to teach.  The real world has taught them the value of education. Others grow along the way, and those are some of the ones who may decide to continue their education at the post-graduate level.

This is Part 1 of a series on coaching. Stay tuned for Part 2.

Listen to Dr. Irma on “To Hell with Mentoring, hire a Coach!” Pt 1

The top image of Toni Cade Bambara is from the Irma McClaurin Collection in the Irma McClaurin Black Feminist Archive, University of Massachusetts Amherst.  Copyrighted and may not be used without permission.



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