The pursuit of a PhD, in and of itself, seems like an incredibly daunting endeavor in any academic discipline, but reading in Rogers’ book that it takes, on average, nine years to earn a PhD in the humanities sounds mind-boggling. I have much respect for anyone who takes this path. Perhaps this datum is so surprising to me because I neither considered pursuing a PhD nor focused much of my academic interests on the humanities.
Rogers’ mention of the importance of mentorship in the higher education realm really resonated with me. When I started my undergraduate studies, I was determined to take no mathematics courses, even though that had been my strongest subject for my entire academic career. By my second semester of college, after a disappointing foray into philosophy, sociology, and a couple of other disciplines, I decided I would take one math course. I appreciated the professor of that course so much that I decided to take another class with him the following semester. By the end of my sophomore year, I had declared mathematics my major and that professor was my advisor. My undergraduate experiences with the mathematics department directly inspired my decision to pursue a graduate degree in mathematics, where I once again was fortunate enough to have an incredible advisor. Considering my experiences with my advisors, whom I also consider to be mentors, it is disappointing to see Rogers state, “The reality, though, is that good mentoring is difficult and often invisible work, and is not typically professionally valued in the same way that publishing or teaching are.” Reflecting, I recognize that there was never a forum and hardly ever any opportunities to praise my advisors for their great mentoring work and recognize their impact. Posselt writes, “…assuming the most accomplished applicants are the best candidates reduces doctoral education from a developmental process to a scholarly finishing school, and implies that mentoring relationships and learning environments matter little to students’ success” Perhaps if greater value and emphasis are placed on the mentoring aspect of professorship, that could directly impact how committees determine the criteria by which they base their admissions decisions. Unfortunately, it is difficult to ascertain if that would have a positive or negative impact on an already controversial, exclusive, and somewhat arbitrary admissions process.
I found this sentence of your to be very poignant: “Reflecting, I recognize that there was never a forum and hardly ever any opportunities to praise my advisors for their great mentoring work and recognize their impact.” I say this because one of the things going on here is your own generosity–a wish to thank someone. But another thing that is also happening is that you’re taking the responsibility of recognition onto yourself within a context/setting that 1) should be actively helping you thank our mentor and 2) should have built-in recognition systems and procedures that don’t rely on the individual alone.