Mentoring DMA Students

October 31, 2005

In 2001, members of the Center for Instructional Development and Research at the University of Washington published the final report of The Development of Graduate Students as Prospective Teaching Scholars: A Four-Year Longitudinal Study. Among their findings was a widespread concern that there is a lack of systematic supervision for many who are seeking careers that would require or benefit from the attainment of a doctorate.

Many doctoral programs throughout the nation are addressing the issue of appropriate supervision by developing specific guidelines to improve the mentoring of doctoral students. Recommendations from the University of Washington suggest written guidelines for mentors and adequate preparation for mentoring by graduate faculty based on research about effective mentoring practices. These may be particularly important and helpful recommendations for DMA committee members, because we face very special challenges in providing requisite counsel and advice to our doctoral students.

Typically, one of the greatest concerns expressed by both faculty and graduate students surveyed is the notion that effective mentoring requires a significant investment of time and effort on the part of the faculty. At most schools of music, the majority of the DMA committee members are (appropriately) studio teachers who maintain very high levels of teaching contact hours while trying to balance their creative, research, and service activities. In spite of this, due to the individualized nature of private music instruction, our DMA students already have good basic access to their mentors; however, most of those hours must be devoted to the unique performance demands of the degree program.

Unfortunately, it is too easy for some performance teachers to neglect other more general doctoral mentoring issues, or to assume or simply hope that the students will manage to find elsewhere the guidance they need to effectively balance their graduate level research requirements and professional development with their performance and pedagogy studies.

Because of basic time limitations, performance teachers need to be sensitive to the professional development of their students and to the breadth and depth of their degree requirements. Although some professors admittedly may not regularly use all of the skills that their DMA students are required to develop, they must assist students in becoming not only the performers and performance teachers they need to be in order to obtain tenure track positions but in becoming productive, responsible, and supportive colleagues. While it is true that many of our DMA students may accept positions at institutions without graduate programs, the intent of the DMA degree program is to enable them to become qualified and confident to teach graduate students.

Furthermore, while it is important for us to hand down the best and most constructive of our own educational and career experiences, it is perhaps even more important for us to bury any destructive or negative experiences we may have had, while striving to stay completely current with regard to the demands and expectations of the academic and performance hiring markets. DMA mentors may have been the lucky recipients of good mentoring, but others who were not so fortunate must still be responsible for enhancing the success of the next generations of future proferssionals. The following recommendations have been drafted specifically for DMA Committee Chairs and are based on a wide variety of sources. Although, in most cases, the Committee Chair would be the most logical mentor to assume the responsibilities outlined; in other cases, some of the mentoring practices could more logically fall to one or more committee members.

Meet regularly with each DMA student.
Meet regularly to discuss degree requirements and professional development. When DMA students have similar concerns, it may be productive to meet with them together, especially if your program does not regularly offer some sort of seminar setting exclusively for DMA students.

Keep records of critical degree procedures.
Supervise each students progress through the required procedures toward completion of the degree, using not only a checklist of degree requirements but also a checklist of procedures. Although the students are ultimately responsible for their own program success, this level of supervision is both necessary and appropriate.

Preview submissions prepared for the DMA Committee.
Carefully review anything the student wishes to circulate to the DMA Committee before it is distributed. One self-help book on succeeding in graduate school (How to Get What You Came For, by Robert L. Peters) advises students: You need your chairperson behind you 100 percent. . . . You will need him or her to prod tardy committee members into action, mediate disputes, and make sure that everyone treats you fairly. If your chairperson is unwilling to play a strong role, you are likely to have problems.

Maintain a good record of each students developing capabilities with respect to critical thinking, writing, and research skills.
Monitor each students coursework by meeting with other academic faculty to ensure that the student will be appropriately prepared to succeed in the comprehensive exams and research project.

Maintain a record of the trends in current performing and teaching opportunities.
Monitor the subtle changes in the descriptions of job openings not only for tenure-track positions but also for a broad range of career opportunities for doctoral students and graduates. Encourage students to monitor opportunities and to develop and maintain application portfolios as much as possible even while completing coursework.

Network and encourage networking.
Maintain your own network of professional contacts, and teach your students how to develop theirs. Remember that, depending on their interests, strengths, and goals, some students may need to develop networks outside of or in addition to your own.

Although it is a universally accepted notion that students are personally responsible for their academic success and entry into the profession, recent studies have indicated that many doctoral students seem to need more guidance than they are typically receiving in successfully making the transition from students to colleagues. It may be beneficial to provide a greater and consistent level of supervision throughout the entire process.

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