Facilitators of a mentoring project for doctoral students found reasons for optimism – despite everything.
Tracy Fortune (La Trobe U) and colleagues analysed the experiences of staff in the mentoring project in a paper out this month, exploring the importance of maintaining a sense of the university “as a site of possibility,” “in spite of our own fluctuating sense of wounding and hopelessness.”
They conclude pressure to publish and design curricula for job-ready graduates renders the idea of an academic good-life, “a nostalgic mirage,” with balancing the demands of work left to the individual, “and to chance.”
The resulting tensions, they suggest, are expressed in two “counterbalanced” themes:
* wounded academics: “people described occasions where their expectations of university life or being an academic had not been met, where leaving seemed the only option … The frequent and sustained nature of these unfulfilled expectations and constant demands was a contributor to a range of feelings, including a palpable sense of having been wounded”
* imagining possibilities: “despite perceptions of having been wounded, we identified moments of optimism about the institution, what universities might offer.”
Overall, they conclude that their mentoring experiences, highlight the importance of focusing on the possibilities that universities can provide.
“Finding moments to remember and reframe the past, to unleash all our ideas about the university, to create the perfect subject, to fantasise about an illusive teaching-research nexus, where scholarliness was more important than technical wizardry for teaching was an essential first step in the realisation that we are the university.”
Just not all of them – of the four facilitators in the project, one has left the academy and three, “persist in various states of ambivalence.”