On mentoring

Deciding to leave academia has conincided with feeling very lost. This is perfectly understandable.

My decision was prompted by a global pandemic, a tiny existential crisis, and the devastation of higher education institutions (thanks to the Federal government).

Lost seems like the appropriate feeling in the face of crisis. We might also add disheartened, terrified, hopeless to the list of perfectly understandable and appropriate feelings in a time like this.

There is something chillingly freeing about the prospect of crises. I had to tell the part of me that craves control and order to shhhh. And instead, I had to listen to what I actually wanted. What do I care about? What do I want to do with my time? How do I want to sell my labour?

I realised that the grounding factor that kept me striving to work in academia and the common thread throughout the work that I took on was advocacy. I wanted to work in advocacy! I had been choosing to take on research that amplified voices that were being ignored and I was trying to use research to make meaningful change. That’s advocacy.

In deciding to leave academia behind to work in advocacy, I also felt that I was leaving behind my networks – the strong and supportive communities that I had built throughout my PhD. These communities were the absolute key to surviving and thriving in the PhD process.

I spoke to friends, colleagues and strangers about the isolation and grief that I felt post-PhD and was reminded that even though my communities have not disappeared, I do need to build new networks within my new spaces.

Below, I’ve shared some of the exercises that friends suggested I use to navigate the challenge of building new networks – and to remember and admire the networks that I already have. I hope that they help you too.

I began by asking the following questions and using these to guide me. It didn’t hurt that I had been doing advocacy training with LELAN on how to identify my purpose and use my lived experience to create change (the training is free, so if you are in Adelaide and are a lived experience advocate – go and do it!).


Who inspires me?

  • Is this someone who is making the kinds of changes you want help make?
  • Is this someone who is making the kinds of career moves that you want to make?
  • Is this a person who embodies similar values to you?

What do I care about?

  • Are these clearly defined issues?
  • Are these injustices?
  • Are these structures?

Then, I thought through who fit the following descriptions of different types of mentors (from Ackerly and True, 2020 -pages 100-101). Thanks to Josephine Browne for sending this resource to me.

A friend who knows you and whose interest in being with you is unrelated to work.
A cheerleader to whom you can complain and who will remind you how great you are without trying to solve your problems for you.
An adviser or supervisor – professionally obligated to read your work carefully.
A challenger – someone who reliably stretches your thinking, inviting you to work and think harder in different ways. 
A professional role model who demonstrates what it means to be a professional in your field.
A well-positioned fan, someone who sings your praises to others, gives you exposure and visibility, and writes letters of reference for you.
An insider or institution specialist who knows the ropes at your institution or in your field.
A confidant to whom you can confide in your mistakes and annoyances.
A protector, someone who can look out for your workload, unreasonable expectations etc. 
An advocate, someone who can open doors, give you support, help you secure resources.
A counsellor, someone to tell you the truth you don’t want to hear, someone with good advice.
A carpool buddy, someone with some expertise in what you are doing who is in a similar place in their work process, with whom you can talk through your challenges.
A host, someone who can introduce you a community or potential partners. 
A group, people with like or overlapping interests, questions, methodologies, or approaches who give you a sense of community.

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