Why and when should we start mentoring and investing in those younger or at a less advanced place than we are academically?
We’re getting a new Star Wars film in a few weeks. The series has a strong focus on legacies and the training of future generations, which I’m sure will continue in Episode VII. (I have no inside information; I just get a strong ‘passing the torch’ vibe from trailer.) In the original trilogy, everyone wants a chance to train the last of the Jedi. Yet in The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda complains that Luke is too old to begin training. At the time, it seemed like a bit of reverse psychology to help Luke discover for himself just how strongly he wants to become a Jedi. It wasn’t until the prequels that we learned Jedi training starts around 3 or 4.
If starting young is good enough for the Jedi, I think it’s good enough for academia too. My own mentoring started very early. Both of my parents allowed me to get some career experience when I was young. My mom was a teacher at my elementary school, so I was always hanging around at her job. She’d put me to work filing and copying, then grading, and ultimately helping her teach now and again (my favorite “lesson” was helping her students make gingerbread houses).
My dad was a college textbook editor. He started me out proofreading manuscripts. Later, I’d accompany him to the office and get some hands-on time with publishing software and assist with some basic production tasks. He also reviewed my school papers, pushing me to improve my clarity of thought and hone my communication skills.
If kids can benefit from mentoring, then just about anyone at any stage of their academic career has something to offer as a mentor. Not a parent? Other people’s kids might benefit from your mentoring. I remember a biologist at my church talking to 10-12 year-old me about his work and about science career opportunities, and a neighbor taking me to his lab for a day to do a little experiment (and singe off some hair with a Bunsen burner!). These may not be tenure-making activities, but they can be formative moments for future academics.
What were your earliest experiences being mentored?