Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mentors for the taking

In my head, my last post started out lamenting the lack of female role models I have around me. As I’ve thought about that particular complaint, I’ve thought of two good female mentors that would love to chat with me if I just reached out to them. I’ve also been thinking a lot about and discussing my frustrations with various people, I’ve realized several things about both myself and my current situation.

Rather than actually having a committee meeting, I’ve been planning to do as Observant Academic suggested on my last post and meet individually with a committee member or two. This is difficult for me on several levels. The biggest barrier for me to overcome with regards to this is my anxiety. At least all the way back to high school I’ve experienced some anxiety, particularly relating to social situations. Starting when I began graduate school through my first three years or so, this social anxiety intensified to the point where sometimes even just the thought of meeting someone new could bring on a panic attack. Over the last two years this has been improving to the point where now I’m only a bit uncomfortable in those situations that would have previously been impossible for me to endure. The thing I still struggle with the most in this regard is initiating interactions with other people, particularly people I don’t see on a daily basis. Clearly this makes setting up meetings with committee members a bit of a struggle for me, but I’ve almost got myself talked into doing it. And frankly, just the thought that I’m able to do that now makes me feel empowered.

The second obstacle to me meeting with my committee members is my concerns about their relationships to Crazy Man. Each of my committee members has a unique (and good) relationship with Crazy Man. The reasons I want to meet with my committee members are about me and my work and my career, and are unrelated to Crazy Man (as much as that is possible). The Crazy and I have a pretty good relationship, and we mostly get along even when we don’t see eye to eye and despite the fact that we’re both very passive-aggressive. I know for the most part this is probably an unfounded concern, but I don’t want my committee members to judge Crazy Man (or me) or give him a hard time for not being able to provide all the mentoring I feel like I need.

The third thing that’s stressing me out about this is that I find my committee intimidating for a whole host of varied and crazy reasons. They scare me. This has improved over time, and I think that’s partly related to my anxiety and partly related to my maturation as a scientist.

Despite all this, I know I need to ask for the support that I want and need. It’s hard for me to ask for help, but I think it’s critically important to my development, so I’m going to do it. My committee members are good people, they know my science, they know my field and they know various related fields. They know information and people that I don’t know (yet). They all have students in their labs and really place a lot of importance on training students. I’d be stupid not to tap into that resource. Now I’ve just got to be brave enough to put myself out there just a teeny bit.

*Candid Engineer had a post this week about mentoring, and there are some excellent comments that have really spurred me on. Also, the WSJ blog The Juggle had a post on mentoring I found interesting.

1 comment:

Observant Academic said...

I've been working on topic X - I know you've done some research in this area/do a lot of research in this area/are an expert in this area and I was just curious to see what your thoughts are on this issue."

My committee members get along really well with my adviser. I think they would describe themselves as being friends. So yes, I am careful with what I say, but if there's something my adviser can't help me with, I would definitely ask (in a very polite way, of course).

Good luck!