I open my first president's column with the sound of applause for AJS Perspectives editors Jonathan Hess and Laura Lieber and our contributors for urging us to think in new ways about Jewish soundscapes. Naturally, many articles in "The Sound Issue" explicate Jewish music and song in different contexts. A few investigate the Jewish sonic realm in the cackle of the barnyard and the shrill of sirens. Interestingly, almost all bypass what we scholars hear most often when we are not isolated in our studies and libraries, the sound of conversations.
During our annual conference these sounds are, of course, ubiquitous. We go to conferences for the conversations. They occur in sessions, meetings, and the lobby; at the banquet and receptions; and inside every coffee shop within a mile radius. I even had one sitting on the hotel stairs. At last year's conference AJS inaugurated a new opportunity for the sound of conversation, Mentor Space.
The sages instructed: "Provide yourself with a teacher" (Pirkei Avot 1:6). If they were writing these words today, when business administration sits atop the hierarchy of the most popular majors, the rabbis might have added "and a mentor." In Sheryl Sandberg's best seller, Lean In, an entire chapter considers the critical importance of mentoring. Research in organizational behavior, applied psychology, and business management proves that those who are mentored have greater career success and job satisfaction. Not surprisingly, the importance of mentoring has spilled over into the university. In my home department all new faculty are assigned a faculty mentor, something I certainly never had. Our own AJS Women's Caucus helped launch the post-conference Paula E. Hyman Mentoring Workshop.
Our new Mentor Space welcomed fifteen distinguished scholars from a variety of fields. I want to thank Jay Berkovitz, Michael Brenner, Kimmy Caplan, Arnold Dashefsky, Jenna Weissman Joselit, Marion Kaplan, Steven Kepnes, Joshua Lambert, Anita Norich, Meri-Jane Rochelson, David Shneer, Francesco Spagnolo, Michael Swartz, Steven Weitzman, Beth Wenger, Azzan Yadin-Israel, and Carol Zemel for carving time out of their conference schedules to meet with recent PhDs, junior faculty, and graduate students.
AJS Conference Program Associate Ilana Abramowitz handled the logistics. The discussants set their own agendas. Some mentormentees focused on writing dissertations and turning them into books. Others, including a few from outside the United States, sought advice on the American job market. They chatted about career paths inside and outside academe, the grants process, tenure and promotion, teaching, and the administrative "stuff " that does not get taught in graduate school.
The liveliness of the Mentor Space conversations, confirmed by a post-conference survey, revealed that the program was a terrific success. Some mentees, attending their first AJS conference, reported that Mentor Space welcomed them in a way that conferences in their larger fields have never done. Immediately they felt more a part of our community of scholars. They sensed that not only was AJS interested in them but that they had a future among us. These junior colleagues heard new insights and fresh perspectives about their projects. They talked about how to define themselves as scholars. Not only were the mentors helpful in thinking about careers, but they also spoke openly of their own experiences with the tough issues of work-life balance. The mentees voiced how much they appreciated having an hour of a senior colleague's undivided attention. They felt like they had gained allies.
The exuberance of the mentees is not surprising, but the mentors also enthused about the stimulating conversations. Research literature on mentoring emphasizes that it works best when there are elements of reciprocity. Wistfully reflecting on their own early careers, some mentors wished that they would have had such an opportunity when they were just starting out. They found it energizing to meet younger people in their field and encouraging to see a new generation moving forward on trajectories that they themselves had pioneered. Building on the success of this first experiment with a formal mentoring program, AJS will offer Mentor Space at the 48th Annual Conference in San Diego. Are there ways AJS could offer mentoring opportunities throughout the year, or could we help guide you in building a mentoring program at your own institution? Please share your ideas and let us know.
Year after year, more than half our membership turns out for our annual conference. Here we visit with colleagues who have become friends. In between conferences we sustain those friendships by email and phone, and, for some of us, through social media. But, at the conference, conversations flow from those first 7:30 am meetings into late at night after the last reception has ended. I return from AJS exhausted from so much conversation and ready to retreat again to the quiet spaces where I think and write. But the echoes of the sounds of those conversations with colleagues and friends and between mentors and mentees carry us forward into the year ahead until next year's conference.
Pamela S. Nadell