Why mentorship matters—-for both tenured and junior faculty, alike

22 Jun 2017 8:11 PM | Dane Claussen (Administrator)

By Will Mari, AJHA membership co-chair, and the membership committee 

During my first AJHA convention in North Carolina, in October 2012, Jim McPherson paid for one of my dinners. 

He then made sure I met a bunch of senior scholars, and then, if that wasn’t enough kindness for one weekend, fed me again when I missed my flight and had to spend an extra night in Raleigh. Jim, who will be retiring soon from Whitworth University, continued to mentor me as I finished my dissertation at the University of Washington and started my first full-time academic job at Northwest University. 

But his care and concern were and are not the exception: Carole O’Reilly at Salford University in the UK, Ross Collins at North Dakota State University, Betty Winfield, professor emerita from the Missouri School of Journalism, Michael Fuhlhage at Wayne State, Stephen Banning at Bradley, Candi Carter Olsen at Utah State, Katherine Edenborg at the University of Wisconsin-Stout … I can definitely go on … these people have all mentored me in ways big and small. 

Indeed, we are all at least partially the result of a vast collection of folks who have influenced, encouraged, and welcomed us in mentoring relationships within the academy. 

But mentorship goes horizontally, too, from peer-to-peer. 

Scholars such as Nick Hirshon at William Patterson, Teri Finneman at South Dakota State and Will Tubbs at the University of West Florida—these peers have all mentored me. Whether it’s through listening conversations, reading over drafts, comparing research notes or connecting me to archives and collections, these younger fellow mentors have already had a crucial impact on my work and sanity. 

As a member of AJHA, you have the opportunity to mentor junior scholars, but also peers. Research and teaching in media history can be a sometimes lonely mission—but mentoring up, down, and across draws us into a bigger community of scholars from varying fields, departments, universities and countries. It enhances our work, and makes us better colleagues at our home institutions. 

It’s more important than ever to mentor someone, or graciously let yourself be mentored, in this age of global change and connections. 

Recently, I met a media historian from France, François Robinet, who encouraged me to spread the word about the Société pour l'Histoire des Médias. Robinet, the chair of the history department at the University of Versailles, believes that there should be stronger ties between French, British and American media-history scholars. I agree. 

We should be ready to extend our mentoring and our reception of mentoring across national borders. Ultimately, we’ll all benefit from a more mentored academic world. 

If you have questions or suggestions for the membership committee, or are interested in getting connected to a mentee or mentor, please email me at william.mari@northwestu.edu. And follow AJHA’s Twitter account at @AJHAsocial to get connected to fellow scholars there. 

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