The Social Science Research Council (SSRC) is committed to fostering growth of scholars in the social sciences through cohort building and strengthening networks of researchers across career stages and disciplines. Mentoring is a key component of most of our programs. In fact, all SSRC fellowship and grant programs host an in-person workshop where fellows are assigned faculty mentors and work in small groups with peers to revise and improve their projects.

In celebration of National Mentoring Month, we heard from program participants, mentors, and SSRC staff about the importance of mentoring in their personal and professional lives.

Alondra NelsonAlondra Nelson
President, SSRC
As the beneficiary of wise and generous mentorship throughout my career, I understand the critical importance of supporting scholars as they develop academically, professionally, and personally. Mentorship and collaboration are the driving forces of the SSRC’s research programs, fellowships, and initiatives; cultivating strong relationships across intellectual communities lies at the core of our mission.

A holistic approach to mentoring

Marika DunnMarika Dunn
Deputy Director, SSRC Dissertation Proposal Development Program

I think it’s critical to not only give advice but also to listen intently, to honor a mentee’s stated interests and strengths. My goal is not to project myself and my aspirations onto mentees. It is to create a professional environment that allows them to hone their skills and provide opportunities that best suit them as individuals.

One of my first and most influential mentors took time to help build my professional skills and inquired about my personal interests and goals. She thought it was important to take a holistic approach to my professional development, understanding that one’s personal and professional lives are so often intertwined. When I made mistakes, she didn’t simply say I was incorrect; she gave me advice for how to make better judgments going forward.

Fight the tendency to only share your work with your colleagues and advisors late in the game. Seek feedback early in the project development and writing process. It’s sometimes intimidating, but really does pay dividends.

Cally Waite
Program Director, SSRC Mellon Mays Graduate Initiatives Program

Mentoring is more than “checking in” over coffee. There needs to be a level of honesty and confidentiality that allows a mentee to ask for the guidance they may need. We should all have more than one mentor in our lives. A network of mentors allows for greater perspectives and more professional and personal growth.

Mentoring as a lifelong practice

Judith TanurJudith M. Tanur
Distinguished Teaching Professor Emerita, Stony Brook University, and former member of the SSRC Board of Directors

When I planned to retire, what I anticipated missing most among my academic responsibilities was the mentoring; I was right. I am happy to report, however, that opportunities for mentoring continue to crop up, even for an emerita professor. Grandchildren, neighbors, professional colleagues, and former mentees have all appealed for help over the last few years; I hope they understand how much I enjoy the process and how grateful I am to them for asking.1Judith M. Tanur, “Mentoring, Appraising and Ensuring Professional Development,” in The SAGE Handbook of Research Management, ed. Robert Dingwall and Mary Byrne McDonnell (London: SAGE Publications, 2015), 383–393

Judith Tanur is the sponsor of the Rachel Tanur Memorial Prize for Visual Sociology. The prize recognizes students in the social sciences who incorporate visual analysis in their work.

Cally Waite
Program Director, SSRC Mellon Mays Graduate Initiatives Program

Mentoring, and especially mentoring those of underrepresented groups, exemplifies the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs’ motto: “Lifting as we climb.” It also speaks to the dynamic and cyclical nature of mentoring. We are never too advanced to be mentored, and we always have something to teach those who are coming behind us.

Mentoring as a community-building tool

Sohl Lee
2011 Korean Studies Dissertation Workshop Participant
Assistant Professor, Art and Art History, Stony Brook University

One too many times to count, I have in my mind returned to the small room where I sat on the floor with three or four other PhD candidates and Professor Nancy Abelmann, one of the faculty mentors for the 2011 SSRC Korean Studies Dissertation Workshop. Perhaps it was the intimacy of crouching together with our prospectus drafts tightly held to our chests, and Nancy’s electrifying enthusiasm each time she spoke about the strengths and challenges of our work. My closest allies and friends whose company I cherish today—at conferences, via Skype chats, and over summers in Seoul—came from that small room and that summer.

The workshop offered exactly what it promised—such as a strong network, an opportunity to converse with eminent scholar-mentors in the field, and a determination to complete the dissertation—and beyond. It showed me a glimpse into what academia does best: nurturing a community of intellectuals across disciplines, across regions, and across generations. It was an initiation of sorts into the warmth and generosity of scholars in the Korean studies community that I am grateful, and thrilled, to be part of.

Mentoring as a confidence-boosting exercise

Alexa Dietrich
Program Director, Scholarly Borderlands

I think it’s especially important that even as you model how to be in a professional context, you also encourage mentees to learn to trust their own instincts, and to take chances they feel are warranted. If I had to choose one sentence that every mentor should want to say to with absolute conviction to a mentee, it would be “You’ve totally got this,” and for it to be believed by the mentee with equal conviction.

We want to hear from you too! If you have advice on mentoring or an experience that has been meaningful to you, email your stories to Are you trying to find a mentor for the first time but don’t know where to start? Check out this resource on how to get started.