For the many women in education research careers, mentors and sponsors represent some of the most important supports for guiding their careers. I am a mid-career education researcher who is incredibly grateful for the senior women who saw potential in me as a young researcher and for the peer mentors who have walked alongside me across many ups and downs of conducting education research. Their influence leads me to believe mentorship is critical to the success of females in academia. For example, my senior mentors have done the most generous things that range from opening up their troves of data for me to publish my earliest papers, funding portions of my salary, nominating me for awards, and spending face-to-face time listening to my questions, concerns, and giving advice and encouragement. Senior mentors advocate for you, push you to think about the rigor of your research, and tend to be fantastic when it comes to polishing your scholarly writing.
Although traditional mentoring from more senior academics is not a new idea, there is increased awareness of the value of peer mentors (Darwin & Palmer, 2009). My peer mentors, meaning individuals at similar levels in their career (such as my colleagues in POWER), are essential for me as well. Peer mentors are unique in that they can keep you accountable for what really matters, provide emotional support, and give you substantive feedback on your scholarship in what can feel like a more safe space. Imagine that you have a new grant or paper idea that you know is still in that inevitable “half baked” state; a peer mentor might be a great person to help you think aloud about what you’re trying to accomplish to allow you to refine your early drafted ideas before you seek input from more senior mentors or a broader intellectual community. Another benefit of your peer mentors is that they can be collaborators for the duration of your career, potentially leading to a series of scholarly endeavors that cultivate an even more rich, supportive relationship.
Formal and informal mentoring can provide important supports for navigating careers in education research. The bar for promotion and tenure is ever rising, as are expectations for conducting increasingly rigorous and transparent research. All academic faculty face these demands, but they can be particularly challenging for women. If you are a woman conducting education research, mentors at your institution can be key to career advancement because they can help you navigate the promotion and tenure system within your university. For example, you can meet with your mentor to set goals and expectations around what is required for promotion/tenure. Mentors can also make the often opaque written requirements for promotion more clear by explaining informal rules of thumb for what it takes to move to the next level. They can help you balance work life challenges while staying on track toward your career goals.
Yet the success of mentoring relationships often depends on the extent to which the mentees apply the principle of “managing up” (Zerzan et al., 2009). This is a term that comes from the corporate world and referees to the concept of the mentee carrying the burden of organizing and directing the relationship with their mentor in ways such as planning and setting an agenda for meetings with their mentor or communicating needs and requesting feedback from the mentor. Part of cultivating a strong relationship with all levels of mentors is understanding the objectives of the relationship and following through on your assigned tasks.
Thus far, I have described my female mentors, yet it is clear that some of my most important daily mentors within my institution are men. Just this week, I met with a male mentor who clearly assessed an uncomfortable situation in a project I am leading and helped me understand what would be a more helpful direction to take the group. As I write this post amidst the #MeToo movement that is making great strides to reduce sexual harassment, an unintended consequence may be that men are uncomfortable to work alone with women. That would be a step in the wrong direction for mentoring. Advocacy groups are calling for more men to step up and mentor women. Indeed, this is a critical juncture for men to mentor women and for women to seek mentorship from men. I’m grateful for not only the safe workplace I work in, but that there are men there who are comfortable supporting me and giving me advice.
I am sure many readers have powerful mentoring stories of their own. The POWER group seeks to support formal and informal mentoring because it is key to successful, productive education research and can be gratifying for both the mentor and mentee. Do you have a mentor? Do you have senior and peer mentors? Are you avoiding mentoring? What are the reasons you’re not seeking out opportunities to mentor or be mentored? If you’re not in a mentoring relationship, get started today. If you’re a senior researcher, consider finding a women in education research to mentor. If you more junior or mid career, you should not only seek out senior mentors but also develop relationships with your peers and look for relationships where peer mentoring may be beneficial.
Darwin, A., & Palmer, E. (2009). Mentoring circles in higher education. Higher Education Research & Development, 28(2), 125-136.
Zerzan, J. T., Hess, R., Schur, E., Phillips, R. S., & Rigotti, N. (2009). Making the most of mentors: a guide for mentees. Academic Medicine, 84(1), 140-144.
By Dr. Sara Hart, Florida State University
Have you been wondering what this Open Science movement is all about? Have you heard of the Open Science Framework but want to know more? Thanks to my wonderful students, I hosted a webinar on Open Science for Education, where we covered the main topics you hear about with Open Science, like preregistrations, registered reports, and open access publishing, as well as human subjects considerations and the like. You can watch a recording of the webinar here. Have a look at the slides, which are located HERE!
By Dr. Sara Hart, Florida State University
Summer time means the start of a new academic job season. Are you planning to be on the market? The first ads begin to appear in August, with deadlines as early as the beginning of September. This means you should start getting your materials together now! A few years ago Dr. Shayne Piasta and I put together a Powerpoint presentation of our best tips, including lots of useful links. Access it HERE in our Resources Area!
By Dr. Sonia Cabell, Florida State University
Scholarly writing for publication is our currency in academia. The more we publish in high quality journals, the greater the impact we will have in our field of research. Not to mention that it is often an essential consideration in promotion and tenure. But for most of us, it is a struggle to maintain productivity in our scholarly writing. It’s not that we don’t want to do it. There are just so many other competing demands. Just today, I have fielded important communication about setting up meetings with two large urban districts, had an unscheduled hour-long conference call with research staff about an emergency issue, have communicated with graduate students and colleagues, and am trying to work through an unending “to do” list that has little to do with moving my writing forward. And this is a pretty calm summer day with lots of hours “supposedly” available for writing.
Writing is a challenge. Yet I have found two easy ways to increase my writing productivity, namely developing a regular writing habit and creating accountability.
#1-- Make Writing A Priority by Developing a Regular Writing Habit
We can’t really complain that we don’t have time to write. We all have the same 24 hours in our day. If I am not making time for writing, I am choosing to prioritize other tasks over writing. I have found that if I don’t make writing a priority today, it is less likely to be a priority for me in general. Once I get away from a regular writing habit, it is much harder for me to return to it. I forget the details of the paper I was writing, and it takes me 30 minutes just to re-orient myself to where I was when I last wrote. Let’s face it. Writing for publication is hard work! So I have found that developing a regular writing habit, particularly a daily writing habit, has helped me increase my productivity.
Daily writing, even for 30 minute increments, has some very useful benefits. First, I have learned to not rely solely on large chunks of time for moving my writing forward. Yes, these chunks of time will always be helpful and perhaps even necessary to complete writing projects. But our schedules don’t always allow for these blocks of time, and that can be an anxiety-provoking experience. Second, I feel that I am accomplishing something each day of the work week. This makes me more likely to want to return to my writing because I feel that I am meeting my goals. Third, having a regular writing habit promotes a healthier work-life balance. I know that I will have time to write productively during my work day, so I can really spend quality time with my three-year-old son on nights and weekends.
Some colleagues have asked me, “What can you get done in 30 minutes?” Well, I have found that I can easily jump back into a paper I was working on the day before, without much need for re-orienting. And I break my tasks down into bite-sized chunks... like incorporating a particular study into my argument in the introduction section, writing the study hypotheses, working on references, or writing a description of a particular measure in the method. And 30 minutes often leads to spending more time, with 90 minutes being my typical daily length. Writing daily, even in small chunks, also helps writing feel routine instead of a special activity reserved for special days.
But to develop this regular habit, we must protect our writing time. We would never consider skipping a class we are teaching. Yet we allow meetings to be scheduled over our writing times. If I really see myself as a professional writer, then I will protect my writing time. For me, I have found that my best bet for writing is when I first arrive at work. So I try to schedule all my meetings for the afternoon.
#2-- Create Accountability for Yourself
We all benefit from accountability in all areas of life! For many of our academic tasks, we have built-in accountability. For example, if I don’t prepare for class or grade papers, then my student evaluations will likely suffer. If I don’t respond to emails from my students or project staff, they will remind me with another email or pay a visit to my office.
We don’t have this built-in accountability for our scholarly writing projects. No one is checking in with us to make sure we have made progress, especially when we are the ones leading the writing effort. Even when we do collaborate with others, we often write our own sections of a paper rather independently. Not meeting proposed writing timelines can sometimes feel like the norm rather than the exception.
Here are some easy ways to create some accountability for yourself:
Set a daily writing goal.
Goal setting keeps you from drifting aimlessly. Each time I sit down to write, I set a writing goal for that session. My goals have included writing for 30 minutes or writing 250 new words on a paper. I try to specify what paper I want to move forward and how I want it to move forward (e.g., begin the discussion section).
Keep a writing log.
Research shows that just tracking what we are eating, with a program like Weight Watchers, helps us make healthier choices. Similarly, tracking our daily writing goals can help us make good writing decisions. Here is an example of my writing log from a week where I had accountability from colleagues. I tracked both my time spent writing as well as the number of new words I wrote per day. Tracking words keeps me honest and shows me whether I am spending my time wisely. Some days, I won’t have any new words when I am revising or editing a paper or thinking through the argument for the introduction section. That’s okay. But at some point, the log should show that I am writing new drafts too. I also like keeping track of how I felt about the writing session on a given day, because it gives me a chance to celebrate successes or vent my frustrations.
Share your writing log with others.
Having some sort of accountability partner or writing group is a key to success. Share your log with these trusted colleagues for regular review. Engage in a weekly writing “check-in” to discuss your writing goals. Talk about how you did with your goals for the past week and your goals for the upcoming. Remember that you don’t have to be in the same field to be in the same writing group.
Recently a colleague of mine challenged me to work on a paper transparently using GoogleDocs. This allows us to see each others’ progress in real time. We both could even be writing in the paper at the same time! This can serve as a motivating collaborative experience. Importantly, this provides another layer of accountability to propel your work forward.
How will you make writing a priority today?
I hope that these ideas have been useful to you as you consider how to increase your writing productivity. I find that even the most highly productive scholars are looking for ways to improve in this area. This may be one of the reasons for their productivity in the first place! Take a few minutes to reflect on these questions.