One of the first things that I was keen to let undergraduates know about when I’d founded the MAP Chapter at my university was the MAP UK Mentoring scheme. In a way, I was keen to tell them about it because there were several ways in which I felt kind of helpless to help them, and the mentorship programme seemed like something concrete that I could show them and that might actually make a difference. But we can still do more to encourage undergraduates to use the mentorship scheme, and this post talks a bit about how.
The philosophy undergraduate cohorts at my university – like with most places – were more diverse than, say, the average MA or PhD cohort. That’s not saying a great deal, but it’s something. Setting out with an aim to make the discipline more welcoming for anyone who chooses to pursue it, approaching the undergraduates was one place to start.
I wanted to make sure that the MAP Chapter was something undergraduates were aware of. And I had to tread a fine line – as the Head of Department had advised me, the best way to make philosophy seem more welcoming probably isn’t to start by listing all of its (many) problems, but neither is it to pretend that those problems aren’t there.
The MAP Mentoring programme seemed like one great way to tread that line. This way I could point to something positive - let my undergraduates know that there were people looking out for them, people taking positive steps to improve the discipline, whether or not they’d noticed any problems themselves. So when I gave my first talk at an undergrad induction session, it was one of the main things I mentioned, and I made sure to get some posters up around the department advertising it as well.
I still don’t know if anyone I told about the scheme ever took it up. I think that there are a lot of things we can still do as an organisation to make the mentoring scheme more appealing. I’ll try to say some things in this post about how we might be able to encourage potential mentees to take it up. (It’s worth saying that not all potential mentees will be undergraduates. For example, some might be out of academia, they might not have begun their undergraduate degree yet, they might be considering transferring to philosophy, they might be studying for their postgraduate degrees or they might even be early-career philosophers already! While writing this post, though, I was particularly thinking about how we can make the scheme more appealing to undergraduates.)
When I think back to being an undergrad, and I imagine hearing about a mentoring scheme, I’m not sure if I’d have taken it up. In fact, I think it’s pretty likely that I wouldn’t have done. Why not? Certainly not because I already had all the answers, and certainly not because I didn’t need help! In fact, the only way I’ve got as far as I have in philosophy is through having certain people informally take the mentoring role and support me through my degrees. But I think as an undergrad I wouldn’t have felt like I deserved to be mentored. I wouldn't have known what to ask, I wouldn’t have known what they could help with. I’d feel bad approaching them. And although I’m generalising from my own experience, I think that this is likely to be a particularly common feeling among potential mentees who are members of under-represented and marginalised groups.
So what are some things that we can say about our mentoring scheme that might help? Here are a few:
Reasons to get yourself a MAP Mentor
It’s good to get advice from different sources!
Nobody has all the answers. That should be particularly obvious to us as philosophers! But it also applies in matters like what to do during your degree, what to do with your life, what jobs to apply for, etc. Most universities (hopefully) already provide their students with a person to turn to for advice, but it’s nearly always helpful to have more people to turn to, a different perspective to hear from. A MAP mentor can be an important extra source of guidance. And because they’ll likely come from a different university than you, their perspective is more likely to be different, and valuable in its own way.
There’s no need to intend to pursue philosophy further.
MAP Mentees aren’t in some kind of special club for high-achievers or people with specific ambitions. Nobody’s expecting you to know what you want to do with your life, and nobody will be disappointed it if philosophy turns out not to be for you, or if it’s something you only want to do for a short while, or in a non-academic setting. In fact, if you’re feeling uncertain about your path then maybe that’s a great reason to seek advice!
There’s no need to be having a specific difficulty or to have a specific question.
There might be a specific incident or a specific question that some people have in mind when they first reach out to a MAP Mentor. But that shouldn’t need to be the case. The burden isn’t on the mentee to know what advice they want to receive. It can still be beneficial just to have someone there, someone to impart some words of wisdom and encouragement, someone to be there in case they’re needed, someone to talk about their own experiences and their own path through philosophy. This was something I was lucky enough to benefit from as an undergraduate, but not something I’d have sought out if I didn’t already have it. If that sounds like you, don’t be afraid to reach out!
Encouraging people to join the mentoring scheme is just one thing we can do to make philosophy more welcome. Diversifying reading lists is another. Even though these initiatives aren't nearly enough, I'm proud that we have them.