Over the last several months, the POWER Steering Committee had the pleasure of interviewing Drs. Patricia Edwards, Shelley Gray, and Kate Cain. Please see our website for more information about their backgrounds and commitment to mentoring.
As an inspiring start to the New Year, we will be sending out ambassador interviews over the next few weeks. With Dr. Patricia Edwards, we had a thoughtful conversation about what to consider when advocating for yourself and for others. Stay tuned for our next installments!
What is the best advice you’ve received in your career?
The best advice that I’ve received is that you need to have a focus. What do you want to be best known for? You can’t know everything about everything, but you can know a lot about something. Can you attract people to come and work with you? If so, you will need a focus to build up your CV in a way that attracts a talented team. When you finish your dissertation, let this launch your career instead of jumping around to this and that.
What are the most important characteristics of a good mentor?
The key to a good mentor is to know what will make an individual successful in the academy and in their given academic institution. A good mentor advocates for their mentees in many ways, such as increasing their visibility through nominating them for awards and getting them on national committees. Sometimes you will have to use your mentoring skills to negotiate for your mentees.
I want to make sure women are given equal opportunities. I want to make sure they get a seat at the table. At one of my past institutions in the 70’s, I saw that there were no women with tenure and moving through the ranks. Therefore, I tried to make sure that women who were right for this job were given opportunities and the experience they need to move through the ranks.
In academia, it is all about your reputation. No one gets to where they have gotten without help. Who do you want to help move through the ranks? How do you want to leave a legacy? This is good not only for them but for you and your institution. Women need to know the rules and then we can play it just as well or better than the boys.
What are the most important characteristics of a good mentee?
As a mentee, you need to listen to the good news AND the bad news. We need to see bad news as a learning opportunity and be humble. For example, my advisor marked my writing up so much with a red pen that it looked like it had been given a blood transfusion. I was so upset at first. But then I realized that the feedback was coming from a place of caring and I needed to learn from it. And I did. And on my later papers, my advisor didn’t need to mark them up.
Remember that you own the responsibility for your own success. Your mentor is there to support you, but you need to do the work.
What advice do you have to help people manage their time effectively and stay engaged?
I think that many junior faculty don’t know how or when to say no. As one of my colleagues says, “No is a complete sentence.” When someone asks you to do something, you want to consider “Who’s to benefit?” For instance, as a person of color, I am asked to be on many committees and serve in other roles. I have to be careful that I don’t get sliced up to the point of incompetency. Think of yourself like The Giving Tree. You only have so many resources to offer.
As a minority researcher, I get asked to do things all the time. I told someone I am not a minority anymore because you can get so sliced up and diced up. My advice is work 8 hours, sleep 8 hours, and do something else for 8 hours. And if you overcommit, you won’t be able to hold up your end of the bargain. Then your reputation suffers and you don’t want people to think of you as someone who says “Yes” but does not do what they promised.
However, saying no can be tricky because you also need to be a good citizen of your institution. Sometimes, especially as you become more senior, you need to say yes to requests because if you don’t do it, then someone else will have to do it. You want to protect your junior colleagues. You also need to be careful about who you say no to. There are two people that you have to work well with - your Dean and your Chair. Sometimes there are situations where they ask you to do something that you didn’t plan on - like a search committee. You need to be flexible.
It’s also important to remember to take a long view of your career. There are some years that you will be at the top of your game and producing a lot, and some years you will not be because of personal issues. But if you take the long view, you will always retain a focus on quality and ways to move the field forward, even if you are not publishing the same amount as in other years.
What are some of the things necessary for success that you think women researchers might not think about or need support in developing?
One thing is that the ability to teach is not going to get you tenure. But the inability to teach will get you in trouble. You have to be able to teach but also do research, write grants, and national service.
I keep copies of winning grant applications and share these as examples with my mentees so they can see what this looks like.
It’s also really important to learn how to negotiate for academic positions. We hold a negotiation workshop for our doctoral students to learn critical negotiation skills. I tell people that institutions have a salary range that they can offer, and I explain that women are earning less than men. But women did not pay less for their PhD training than men did, so why should be paid a lesser salary? That doesn’t make sense.
It’s important to know how to talk to policy makers. As researchers, we are trained to be careful about what we say about our research. At least within my own discipline, when we talk about the implications of our work, we typically limit it to suggestions of areas for future research. Trying to use our research findings to influence policies can seem like a daunting concept. However, in recent years, institutions are devoting considerable resources into helping academics build their skills, so they can communicate complex science or technical social science into ‘user friendly’ and digestible soundbites. If your research overlaps with nationally recognized policy, then this provides the opportunity for you to talk with multiple audiences. Since coming to MSU in the fall of 1989, I have continued to be an articulate spokesperson and my service has taken three forms. I have served the university, professional organizations, and parents and children. For example, I have responded to more than 50,000 teachers, administrators, daycare providers, adult educators, legislators, and governors around the country regarding the two family literacy programs I developed. I served as an advisor to the U. S. Department of Education, specifically the Department's Office of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Office of Planning, Budget and Evaluation. My work with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education led to the document Preparing Young Children for Success. It provides guideposts that may be helpful in taking actions to achieve the first national goal, Readiness for School. Without careful counsel, such reforms are likely to create more problems than they solve. My contributions to these policy statements and to the research and development that they support for the next five years is crucial, for I reminded the Department that teachers need to be educated in how to accommodate the needs of the changing family. My work with the Department brought me in contact with many key state and national leaders which has served as an important avenue for the dissemination of my scholarship from MSU. I was also a consulting reader of "The Mechanics of Success for Families: An Illinois Family Literacy Report." This experience also brought me in contact with several state and national leaders. Also, I had the distinct honor and pleasure to testify in Washington on March 9, 1989 to the Congressional Subcommittee on Select Education about my work with families and children. Additionally, because of my work with families and children, I was invited to the 52nd Presidential Inaugural "Bells for Hope" Historic Event and Reception in Washington, DC, January 1993.
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