Paul Kei Matsuda

Carnegie Foundation Creates New 'Owner's Manual' for Doctoral Programs -

Here is some news about a publication that looks seriously at the need for improving the preparation of future researchers in doctoral programs. (I personally think the Chronicle headline misses the point, though.)

According to the Chronicle article, the report (rightly, I think) criticizes the (historical) master-apprentice model that relies on accidental match of personalities. (The model of apprenticeship being discussed here seems to be the historical apprenticeship, rather than apprenticeship in situated learning.) It uses the term mentoring instead:

The study recommends that doctoral programs adopt new structures that allow students to have several intellectual mentors and come to think of mentorship as less an accident of interpersonal chemistry and as more a set of techniques that can be learned, assessed, and rewarded.

Some of these efforts are already in place, as we will see in Chris Casanave and Xiaoming Li's forth coming book. But it's true that it has depended more on individual initiatives rather than institutionalized practices. The good news is that ASU is being mentioned as one of the model institutions for encouraging successful mentoring at the doctoral level.

The challenge, of course, is to institutionalize these practices without falling into the trap of believing that successful mentoring relationships can be mass-produced. As Steve Simpson and I tried to articulate in our chapter on mentoring (to appear in Casanave and Li), this is something mentors and mentees have to work out as they develop their relationships.

What worries me about this report, as represented by the Chronicle article, is that it seems to reduce mentoring into a set of skills that can be prescribed to anyone. Well, it's not that simple.

While I agree that part of the problem is the heavy reliance on "accidental match of personalities," prescribing techniques seems limited as a solution. For mentoring to really work, both mentors and mentees need to recognize the need to make concerted and ongoing efforts to develop a productive relationship. And that, IMHO, takes much more than just "a set of techniques."

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Last update: January 6, 2008