by Catherine Forsa
When we founded the English Graduate Student Association in September 2011, we envisioned it as an organization that would help graduate students support other graduate students in the department. Our mission statement emphasizes this goal:
- To provide sustained support for current and prospective graduate students in the Department of English at CWRU in all aspects of graduate life, including but not limited to coursework, M.A. comprehensive exams, Ph.D. qualifying exams, dissertation writing, professional development, and teaching pedagogy.
With this mission in mind, we identified mentoring—both informal and formal—to be at the center of the organization. And, over the past four years, we have seen an informal support system become more robust. Our graduate student lounge provides a space for informal meetings, and EGSA-sponsored events have helped to facilitate conversations among graduate students.
Last year, the EGSA commissioned a taskforce to provide more shape to these conversations. Officers wanted to explore opportunities to strengthen the peer network at the heart of the graduate program. How could we enrich conversations about research, teaching, and professional development? Volunteers gathered input from our fellow graduate students, talked with faculty members familiar with mentoring practices, researched peer mentoring programs at other universities, and assessed current mentoring opportunities in the program.
After several months of planning, the EGSA launched a pilot peer mentoring program in May 2015. We are pleased to share its successes as we reflect at the end of the first semester.
We envisioned the program as taking a different form than a traditional mentor-mentee relationship. While some mentoring programs typically see one person as an expert, we believe that all participants have expertise to share. We believe that each person in the pairing could offer advice, support, and encouragement. As soon as we announced the program, we had a high level of interest, and that interest continues to grow. We have participants from the master’s program and all years of the doctoral program.
Mentoring takes several forms, but discussions often center around four main areas:
1. Answering practical questions about English graduate studies at CWRU (e.g., help with registering, planned program of study, fellowship courses).
2. Discussing program requirements (e.g., guidance on experiences with preparing for MA/PhD exams, creating teaching portfolios).
3. Discussing professional practices (e.g., identifying, applying, preparing for conferences, thinking about publications/relevant journals, applying for Ph.D. programs).
4. Additional issues of support (e.g., work-life balance, time management).
The program supplements the mentoring we receive in the program from professors, research advisors, the Director of Graduate Studies, the Director of Composition, teaching mentors, and other resources across the university.
We are pleased to report that this program has provided opportunities for new friendships to develop, as students learn more about each other’s interests and share in each other’s good news. As the program continues, we will work on making it a permanent part of the EGSA.