TAA members share their mentoring experiences and advice
What is a mentor? Merriam-Webster defines a mentor as “a trusted counselor or guide”. As writers, much of our efforts are completed individually, and even when contributing to a larger body of work, the relationships are more often collaborative in nature than one of a mentoring type, but few successful authors have reached that level of success without the guidance of one or more who came before them and guided their efforts. Several TAA members share their experiences as either a mentor or mentee and some advice for successful mentoring relationships.
Award-winning mathematics textbook author, Michael Sullivan, has mentored at several TAA conferences:
“Over the years I have had occasion to meet up with some of my mentees at professional meetings and learned that they have become published and are now authors. They have always gone out of their way to thank me for giving them advice and encouragement. But the real thanks should go to TAA for creating and supporting the mentoring program.
When you mentor, you do not know what the mentee will bring to the table. So you can’t prepare and, as a result, you never know whether your comments will strike home. To hear of the successes of ones you have mentored is about as good as it gets.”
Andrea Honigsfeld, Professor of Education at Molloy College, has served as both a mentor and mentee, and shares some mentoring tips:
“I had several mentors, but the most influential one was my doctoral dissertation committee chair, Dr. Rita Dunn. She was the first to introduce me to academic writing for publication. Almost every course assignment in the St. John’s University EdD program in Instructional Leadership was an article or chapter in one of her books or a grant proposal or a book review. She invited me to even coauthor a book, Differentiated instruction for at-risk students: What to do and how to do it (Rowman and Littlefield, 2009). More recently, I became a mentor to others through collaboration. I invited junior faculty or graduate/doctoral students to co-author with me and guided them through the process from project development to publication.
Mentoring allows for building a very special relationship. My most important lesson learned is that even when it looks like the mentor is the expert who guides the novice through some difficult terrains… in reality, mentoring provides an opportunity for learning both ways. As I reflect on it, I have learned so much from everyone I supported. So I would suggest mentors embark on new commitments with an open mind and an eagerness to learn just as much as they may teach their colleagues about writing and publishing.
Open communication and frequent check-ins with each other are critical. Since my mentoring experiences have been highly collaborative, sharing ideas, brainstorming, exchanging drafts, and co-developing manuscripts required both face-to-face and online interactions. One tip to improve the mentoring relationship? Compliment each other once a day (or as frequently as you check in with each other).”
Kathleen King, Professor and Program Director of Higher Education & Policy Studies at University of Central Florida, Orlando has served as a mentor through her role as a series editor for a publisher:
“[It’s] helpful to write up guidelines of expectations. Develop handouts/helpsheets of frequent issues which need to be addressed (I have an electronic folder of these), establish milestones and a timeline, and explain/review the editing process (scope, software, notations, focus). I worked with the publisher and authors to evaluate experiences through email and surveys.”
Olga Zbarskaya, OZCREDO President, offered the following insight from a mentee point of view:
“Any manuscript benefits from a reviewer or, better yet, reviewers, who bring advantages including but not limited to the following: underlining great findings, highlighting moments that don’t work, sparking new ideas, redirecting a line of thought, sharing knowledge that could bolster a given point, clarifying overall goals of the work, and providing emotional support. Unfortunately, I never had a mentor. Instead, I collected opinions and tried to remain receptive to any feedback.
Diverse feedback is important to me. I like sharing my ideas and writings with varied audiences, including like-minded colleagues, professionals from different fields, novice readers, and a professional editor. While subject-matter experts can provide advice related to content, an average reader provides feedback on how the book flows and what needs to be explained better. A professional editor helps with the organization and improved flow of ideas.
It is important to be receptive to feedback while staying in control of your own goals and ideas. I have been asked on numerous occasions to review academic writings, nonacademic books, and poetry. I always strive to remain objective as I provide compliments, constructive criticism, and professional stimulation; my aim in these situations is to build and advance the writer’s thoughts.
The right type of feedback is encouraging and inspirational even as it helps promote boundaries. It helps narrow unfiltered opinions and drives you to succeed. Seeking a great mentor, collecting feedback, and working with a professional editor are not signs of weakness, a lack of professionalism, or an inability to create. Rather, these are smart ways to improve and eventually perfect your work. The sources of feedback named here can guide an author through the writing process and provide not only constructive criticism but also priceless support.”
Mentoring relationships can bring value to both the mentor and the mentee when the right partnership is established. In the Harvard Business Review article titled, “What Mentors Wish Their Mentees Knew”, Vineet Chopra and Sanjay Saint tell us to clarify what you need, choose wisely, underpromise and overdeliver, mind your mentor’s time, beware of pitfalls, and be engaged and energizing.
I have personally benefitted greatly from relationships with several mentors throughout my career, including those started during the mentoring sessions with Sean Wakely and Michael Spiegler at the 2015 Textbook & Academic Authoring Conference. So keep an eye out for TAA’s 31st Annual Textbook & Academic Authoring Conference mentor schedule in 2018.