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Mentoring over coffee during National Conference opens new possibilities

posted on 12:37 PM, August 14, 2018
During the NATS 55th National Conference, an informal mentoring program matched NATS members with one another for one on one, hour long meetings. These exchanges highlighted the untapped expertise and generosity of our membership.
Matthew Hoch served as an informal mentor at the 2018 NATS Conference.

During the NATS 55th National Conference, an informal mentoring program matched NATS members with one another. This program cost nothing but time, and highlighted the untapped expertise and generosity of our membership. The trial program was organized by NATS member Ian Howell (New England Conservatory). “All the mentors needed was a social context to share what they knew. All the mentees needed was a social context to ask for help,” said Howell.

The informal mentoring program at the 2018 NATS National Conference was based on a similar program run at the Society for Music Perception and Cognition conference in 2017. Overall the response was strong; about 75 NATS members signed up to be mentors, and 64 to be mentees. 95% of mentees were able to match with either their first or second choice. 85% of mentees were matched with two mentors from their preferred list.

Responses to a follow-up survey suggest that NATS should continue to offer this program at future conferences, and several regional NATS chapter are already planning similar programs. Anyone interested in running their own version may feel free to reach out to Ian Howell at ian.howell@necmusic.edu for the questionnaire templates.

Program Summary

About two weeks prior to the 2018 conference, a sign-up email was sent to everyone registered for the conference. This included presenters, exhibitors, students, and regular attendees. Those who signed up as mentors were asked a few questions about their positions and area(s) of expertise. Those who signed up as mentees were contacted a week later, given a list of available mentors (with the short bit of info describing each mentor’s expertise), and asked to rank mentors in order of preference. Mentees and mentors were then matched in order of mentee response and preference. Two rounds of matching were run and each mentee was assigned two mentors. 

What Mentors and Mentees Got Out of It
According to the mentors and mentees, the most frequent topics of discussion were:


“Generally speaking, the feedback was very positive. From informal discussions at the conference, I know of at least a few tangible outcomes, including one junior faculty member securing outside reviewers for her tenure portfolio, and another current doctoral student securing outside readers for his dissertation proposal,” said Howell. “It was a palpable part of the conference. Everywhere I looked I saw people paired off and having conversations.” One favorite response reflects Howell’s goal with this program: “This was awesome. I gained so much from the opportunity to actually sit down and chat. Had I simply introduced myself, I might not have had the same kind of conversation without feeling pushy or over eager.”

Additional Responses - Benefits of Program According to Participants

“It was so amazing, I was really really inspired to follow my dreams. Talking with someone who has done so much of what I want to do makes me realize that it really isn’t impossible and I know I’m going to do it.”

“Both my mentors were incredibly encouraging, and helped me to clarify what I wanted out of the academic market.”

“After meeting with my mentor, I was so inspired! I decided to make some life changes and use what I love to do and also make money in the process. It didn't just feel like a one-time thing either. It gave me the chance to connect with someone that I can call on in the future.”

“This was a really helpful and important part of the conference for me. I am about to start a new full-time university position which will have different requirements than my last position. So it was wonderful to be able to pose some of the questions I had about different techniques, approaches and career-building endeavors to knowledgeable and friendly mentors. I certainly gained some of the information that I felt I needed from other conference events, but having the one-on-one time to ask specific questions and get specific advice was invaluable.”

“It is a joy to give back and be a source and support to younger colleagues and students.”

“Both of my mentoring sessions were extremely informational. I certainly feel more aware of and prepared for the college application process. Also, I was provided with useful strategies that I can implement immediately to reduce anxiety when performing and in daily life. Thank you to both my mentors for sharing their time and knowledge with me!!”

“My mentor offered to look at my singing and teaching clips. The moment he said he would love to do so because (a great voice ped person) did the same to him, I almost had tears in my eyes. It feels so good to be in a lineage of good educators of voice.”

“Mentoring is a great way to meet new teachers, explore the benefits of teaching together and learn from each other!”

“Thank you for creating this opportunity! It was an excellent way to meet colleagues from other institutions and NATS regions. My mentors were open to discussing pedagogy and research ideas, the challenges and joys of a career in academia, and involvement in the NATS organization. I left each meeting completely inspired, and with plans to reconnect with each mentor for future collaboration before the 2020 conference. Thank you for creating this fantastic program!”

“Having mentors available to sit down with and discuss everything from voice science to career advice to "I have this one student..." technique exercises was an invaluable experience. An additional and unexpected "perk" was being introduced to many more incredible teachers and voice scientists and having the opportunity to establish connections with them! Having mentors and mentees from both Canada and the US helped to create a bond through our shared passions and start discussions about the industries - both teaching and performing - and the similarities and differences between the two countries. This experience was priceless and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet so many of NATS' top teachers and voice scientists and to get to pick their brains a bit!”

“It was a true joy to meet with other like-minded teachers of singing, discussing ways to help each other grow in knowledge and experience while deepening our understanding of this, our beloved field in the arts.”

“I enjoyed the opportunity to share information and welcome a new member to the conference. In my time as a young teacher, I relied on piano teachers as my mentors. Because there was no one to guide me in my small voice world. I believe mentoring can change the face of independent voice teaching. Our field is exciting and challenging and who better to experience that with than skilled teachers to guide you through the rough patches. Well done NATS!”

“I think this is an excellent opportunity not only to share expertise and experience with younger faculty/teachers, but also gives both parties a chance to get to know a new colleague we probably would never have met in this way. As a mentor, I benefited as much from the experience of connecting and sharing, as I hope the mentees did!”


Re: Mentoring over coffee during National Conference opens new possibilities
by Sandra McClain Buller
posted on 10:56 AM, August 16, 2018
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