You should do this and this and this

Some people desperately want to be your mentor.

Jessica Wildfire


Photo by Spencer Imbrock on Unsplash

After five shots, this one guy had all the answers. He told me how to do research. How to network. How to submit a job application. How to do an interview. And who to put on my dissertation committee. Definitely not that one professor. Her career was going nowhere.

A few years later, we met up at a conference. He almost knocked himself out by walking into a glass door.

In his defense, it was a very clean door.

But he also didn’t know where his hotel was. Or which hotel he was staying at. A little harder to excuse.

Some of us had rooms with couches. Maybe a spare bed. But honestly, the guy had a rapey reputation. And the guys worried about him puking on their floor, and skipping out on the cleaning bill. Ever good Samaritans, we tossed his drunk ass into an Uber and hoped for the best.

Some people live to give advice. They want to help everyone. Except they define help in a specific way. Really, they just want to tell you what you should really be doing with your time.

These wannabe mentors feed off your energy and attention. They usually haven’t amassed a huge amount of success. Some of them are hiding from their own problems. They want to guide you to make them feel better about themselves. They give the strangest tips. Almost like they thought it up on purpose, just to try and fuck you up.

One wannabe tried to tell me to call department chairs after submitting job applications. Make yourself stand out. Tell them a funny story about your class that they’ll remember.


Some advice just sounds bad. Seriously, call every department chair and regale them with teaching stories? Somehow this would bump me to the top of the pile? No version of that seemed sane to me. So I asked around for a second opinion.

Yeah, you’re not supposed to do that.

Since then I’ve served on a handful of search committees. Some cowboys always try to jump the queue by harassing the chair. Those people wind up in the trash bin. Somehow, their bad advice lives on.

Woes of wannabe mentors