In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Mentor Me.”
There are lots of people I met through the time I started college until I finally walked across that stage and heard my name with the “Dr.” part in front of it. Classmates who would sit with me in some cubicle in the library at Boston University and spend hours conversing about the nature of life, love, sometimes we actually worked through the writing assignments we had been given. This continued through my time at Florida State and ended at George Washington University when I finally had enough, or at least they call it a terminal degree so there was no other place to go with my studies.
They let you go through your department and find someone who is going to shepherd you towards the end goal. It’s like a beauty contest, ironically an economic theory, but without the hurt feelings or silly sashes. There are however a series of question and answer periods that take place, some public, most private. Bryan was shortly to become the head of the department and was a logically choice. Like most growing field, Game Theory was still a new set of course requirements, so go with the guy making the decisions.
That first meeting was so much like any first date. Sitting in the room, minus the awkward food selections, drinking out of our Starbuck’s cups. “Gee, why did you pick this school?” and “You do realize that we charting new territory with your dissertation topic, so we need to be careful and go slowly.” See, just like a relationship!
We spent those first couple of weeks going over my class schedule and how I was going to be able to pick up the slack teaching the classes he just didn’t care about. Maybe cared about is a crass way of looking at it, he just wanted to know if I was willing to take over the Cattle Call classes with people just trying to fulfill a requirement. Some of them showing up solely for the tests and others who didn’t even do that! [Maybe at this point I should apologize to any person who suffered through one of my lectures, teaching Microeconomics 101 is a joke even among the faculty!]
More important then staring at 275 pages of text, Bryan taught me how to be a better communicator. Writing has never been easy for me, even when it is something extremely simple. Learning to sit in a room, talk to people, and more importantly learn to listen to those same people made me a better teacher. It also helped me figure out how to tailor that dissertation into something that would not only make the subject matter approachable, but understandable. Writing what amounts to a novel but for an audience so narrowly defined means they know when you screw up.
I wanted to have the same relationship that my father had with his advisor, someone I knew growing up and spent time with over the years. It was more than just an academic connection, those two cared about each other. My father even wanted me to attend the same college as he did just so I would have that experience. And maybe see the look on Al’s face when he saw the class roster with a name he was very familiar with. [I’m named after my father, so that would have been an easy jump!]
When it was time to defend my paper before the committee of my, Bryan walked me through the entire process. I had been to other defenses previously, but when you are sitting at the table staring at 4 people with the fate of your work before them, it’s a panic inducing, anxiety riddled event. My mother sitting in the chairs behind me, my father listening over the computer line because he was travelling. Whenever it was Bryan’s turn to ask a question, he would reference some page of my material to consider. On my copy, on each one of the pages he referenced was some sticky note with a dumb cartoon! [he switched out my personal copy before we sat down, smart ass!] It was his way of telling me to have fun with this, they knew I worked hard; just talk to people like they are people, not holding your future in question.
After everything, over the years they have asked me to talk to a student or two and be some outside mentor. Help advise someone in minor ways how to finish what is a daunting task. I’ve found we talked about life more than the subject matter. But maybe that was the point, sometimes people just need someone to talk to whose been there, lived to tell their tale. I know both of the students I have dealt with graduated and that makes me smile.
I use those lessons in talking with my 6 year old nephew. Just listen to the question, he might not understand the question he is asking, but just listen. We last talked about Black Holes, his newest fascination. He doesn’t understand the math, or physics, or even the basic concept beyond his own experiences. But I’m hoping that there comes a time when he looks back on that and remembers sitting on the floor, talking.
Maybe those lessons paid off in the larger world. Thanks for everything you did Bryan!