My life as an academic mentor

Two years ago, my PhD advisor asked me to mentor one of her 3rd year students. This is one of my responsibilities as an Ocean Womxn fellow. I had a Zoom session with the student and in that first meeting, she became so emotional from being reminded that she is brilliant, that she is not where she is by mistake and that her future is bright. We both shed a few tears, but of course, I had to act like I wasn’t really crying on my side as the mentor in control. The student talked to me about her future plans, which didn’t involve oceanography. I had to give advice and share my contacts with her, and I did that.

After that meeting, we had a few other meetings that were mostly informal. But there was one major meeting where I had to prepare her for the world as a brilliant black woman after she experienced a racial profiling-related encounter in academia. At this stage, she was at the Honours level of her studies. She was afraid and wanted me to accompany her to one of the meetings where she would have to spill out her grievances. But I assured her that she needed to do that alone and conquer it by herself as many of those would be in her path. Unfortunately, this is part of our careers as black women. Especially in the white-dominated fields of science that we chose for ourselves.

My mentee graduated a few weeks ago with Honours in Oceanography. I’m so proud to see her doing exactly what she planned for herself since undergrad. I learnt so much from that kid. I wasn’t as determined & brilliant as she is when I was her age. She’s a powerhouse! I cannot wait to watch her grow!

This post has been sponsored by the University of Cape Town’s Oceanography Department.

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