Bring on your questions! I’ll answer.

Some of my readers in ticklish academic dilemmas have emailed me with questions. I answer these questions, privately first, and sometimes I then address the topic with a general blog on it. I do this later and without giving any particulars of course, for I respect your privacy. I’ll even change the story around a bit for further concealment, since there will always be details that can be changed without impacting the main point.

You don’t need to conceal your identity because I won’t ever share it. Not only will I not share it, but I am highly unlikely to remember it, the best form of concealment of all! But of course, if you like you can use your friend’s email or some such device.

Often you will be able to answer your own questions in the process of writing them down. That is where much of my confidence in answers comes from. After all, you know the particulars of your case better than anyone else. You also know how they make you feel. I can usually see loud and clear what you think the solution is, though getting there might sometimes be tricky. Also, the forty years since I began graduate school have given me perspective. I suppose one of the hardest situations is when someone you like and trust is pushing you in a direction you know is not right for you.

A constant challenge for mentors is to understand that our students and colleagues are not the same as us. We have to help them discover their own answers, not follow in our footsteps. Even if we are very happy with where we are now, there are in everyone’s life and career some phases or circumstances we would not have wished on anyone, formative as they might have been. So discover in yourself your own best solutions, but ask others, including me, too. Ultimately it is up to you.

About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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1 Response to Bring on your questions! I’ll answer.

  1. Mac says:

    I’d love to get ideas on how to encourage graduate student independence without leaving them floundering. While I’m here for advice, guidance, and as a check on what will work (intellectually, logistically,…), in the end I feel grad students all need to take ownership of their project and be the main force propelling it forward. Some students do this easily but others less so, how do you get students to become more independent without having them feel like they’ve been pushed into the deep end?

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