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Mentoring Seminar offers fellowship and guidance to emerging scholars

The Emerging Scholars Mentoring Seminar, now in its second year, is a project of the Network for Research in Jewish Education with support from CASJE and the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Studies in Jewish Education at Brandeis. It provides advanced doctoral students, recent doctorate recipients and junior faculty with mentoring focused on their specific career stages. The two-day seminar was held this year immediately preceding the NRJE annual conference at HUC-JIR in New York City. All graduate students and junior faculty members who are members of NRJE are eligible to apply, and this year 11 emerging scholars participated. Mentors were selected based on their reputations as scholars, teachers, and mentors in the broad fields of Jewish education, education, and social science research. In addition to one-on-one mentoring sessions, participants engaged in panel presentations facilitated by scholar-in-residence Riv-Ellen Prell such as “Life Courses in Jewish Education/Jewish Studies Scholarship” and “Productive Habits of Highly Respected Researchers,” and they participated in a research “think tank” activity on Jewish summer camps.

As its stated goals, the seminar:

  1. Brings together emerging scholars of Jewish education from different backgrounds, academic programs, disciplines, and career areas, for the sake of fellowship and guidance
  2. Connects emerging scholars with veteran researchers for mentoring, and fosters new connections and potential collaborations among them
  3. Facilitates sharing current research ideas, methodologies, and works in progress among peers and with mentors
  4. Underscores NRJE’s and CASJE’s mutual commitment toward advancing the professional development and research acumen of emerging scholars
  5. Contributes to the growth of the Jewish education profession by inducting emerging scholars into the field

None of the mentor-mentee matches had worked together significantly before (most had never met before), which meant that they were able to learn about each other, share and respond to each other’s work with fresh eyes and ears and open minds, and explore new directions for research and professional growth that evolved through on-site conversations. Several mentors and mentees report that they plan to remain in contact after the seminar.

This year the seminar piloted a workshop dedicated to modeling and participating in the research process. Participants were invited to review the CASJE brief, “Jewish Camp: Questions from Convenings and Conversations,” prior to the Seminar. Alex Pomson then convened a panel of scholars (from among the mentors) who reacted to prompts such as, “How do you approach the prospect of undertaking work prompted by these questions? How would you move from the questions posed to conceptualizing a research project in your areas of interest and activity?” Following the panel discussion, mentors and mentees convened in groups of four to brainstorm and begin to sketch out a research project prompted by the brief. The purpose of this session was to role-play the research process in order to provide a powerful opportunity for learning important professional practices, and to begin to connect individuals in conversations about a concrete research project of interest to the field.

Participants reflected on the value of the seminar experience to them:

“There were two things I had in mind [about a mentor]: One was someone who modeled a more advanced stage of my own career path (or a possible path). The other was someone who can give some pretty specific advice or coaching on professional issues. I think there was a good sense of connection, and of mutual respect and interest in each other's work, which was very helpful, and my mentor gave me some important advice on thinking about my previous work as part of a general self-perception.” - Mentee
 
“I appreciated the opportunity to talk to my mentor one-on-one-- to hear about his journey and learn from his experiences. I also liked being able to share my ideas and get feedback. I have been in touch with him since, and I hope to collaborate with him on upcoming project. This sort of ongoing contact and encouragement are key for me in terms of mentoring, and in this regard, I found the seminar very helpful.” - Mentee
 
“It was fun to actually engage with people on a real (?) task, and to try to fit diverse contributions together. The whole exceeded the sum of its parts.” - Mentor
 
“I'm always happy to join with colleagues, and particularly with new colleagues in the field.” - Mentor
 

Overall, the seminar was a great success. Mentors and mentees prepared and participated with obvious motivation and enthusiasm throughout their time together.