Academics → Mentoring Awards

Dr. Goran S. Hyden
Distinguished Professor
UF Department of Political Science
2005-2006 UF Doctoral Mentoring Award Winner

This personal statement has been prepared in conjunction with my nomination for a Dissertation Advisor Award for 2005-2006. It includes comments on how I approach the task of advising and mentoring graduate students as well as the role that I have played in my department’s graduate program.

I have always treated a mentoring or advising relationship as greatly dependent on both personal and professional qualities. It is a one-on-one kind of engagement in which the mentor can easily become overpowering, and even intimidating, to the other party. The most important challenge, therefore, is to find the right balance between direction and facilitation, between impatience and tolerance. As the senior and academically more conversant, a mentor is expected to provide a definite measure of prescriptive advice — at least a road map that would help the graduate student find his or her way with a dissertation project. At the same time, it is important not to “hold that hand” too tightly. The student must feel that there is room for intellectual self-development. There is also the question of how long a time a student should have to find his or her way forward. The relationship often requires patience, but it is giving up one’s responsibility if there is no end to that patience. Thus, my own philosophy has always been to avoid the tendency to make students copies of myself, reflecting only what I consider to be right or wrong. I have never seen myself in the business of intellectual cloning, if that is a metaphor that makes sense here. Nor have I assumed that students would find their own academic progress without needing time. Blooming doesn’t come in the early stages of growth. It requires a good deal of maturity.

This respect for intellectual diversity and the importance of letting students develop, drawing on much of their own interests, stems from my own understanding of political science. While I fully associate myself with the aspiration of our discipline to claim its ability to accumulate knowledge in a systematic and critical manner, I share the skepticism of many fellow political scientists that there is only one way of doing that. What excites me and what I try to share with my students is the satisfaction that comes from discovering, and not just testing, insights that may turn into “truths”. My own mentoring and advising has emphasized that a graduate student is better off being versatile, rather than trained in just a single approach to the study of politics. Versatility makes the student not only more marketable in the sense of being able to apply for a greater number of positions, but it also makes him or her a person who can engage others in intellectual discourse. This is an asset in public life and also an important condition for being able to interact fruitfully within the discipline. At professional meetings and other occasions, I have seen too many “over-specialized” students who are so narrow in their training, they can only communicate meaningfully with a small number of colleagues. It is my belief that the discipline needs to be more effectively integrated. Its core needs to be not just deeper, but also broader. I also think that our knowledge should not be the preserve of colleagues in the discipline alone. As a result, several of my own students and others, on whose committees I have served at the University of Florida, have ventured into researching problems that transcend the boundaries of political science. For instance, many have focused on development and conservation issues.

The University of Florida has proved to be an ideal setting for me. The UF Department of Political Science is a place where the intellectual ceiling is high and where respect for diversity is nurtured. Various centers and neighboring departments on campus have provided additional stimuli for my own work and engagement with graduate students because of their orientation toward policy issues in the development and conservation fields. In short, I have been able to flourish much thanks to a nourishing academic environment.

It is no coincidence, therefore, that I have been privileged to work with a large number of graduate students at the master’s degree as well as doctoral degree level. The intellectual attraction has always been reciprocal. They have come to me in the hope of getting good advice. I have seen their dedication and interest, and decided to engage them. In virtually all instances since 1986, when I first joined the department, this relationship has worked out satisfactorily for myself and my students. Each one of them has gone on to a rewarding position in a university or some other institution, governmental or non-governmental. Wherever they have ended up — in research universities, liberal arts colleges, the State Department and USAID, or any other organization — I have taken great pride in their achievements. The fact that at least a handful of these graduates have been international students, going back to important positions in their own countries, has added much to my sense of satisfaction and pride. It has been a joy to continue interact with them after graduation and follow their professional progress.

It is my great satisfaction from working with graduate students that made me accept the chair’s request to serve as graduate coordinator in the department, which I did between 2000 and 2003. This allowed me to meet three incoming classes of graduate students in the department — each approximately 40 students — and advise them at a very critical point in their program. I also allocated individual mentors from among faculty to each incoming student, so that they had some one to turn to other than myself. Although only some of these have become my own students, I have kept up my interaction with many of the others. I will always remember the years as graduate coordinator as some of the best during my stay at the University of Florida.

In conclusion, I would like to say that the graduate program in the UF Department of Political Science has seen a tremendous growth in both quantity and quality since I joined almost 20 years ago. I am pleased to have been part of this process and to help the department enhance its standing nationally and internationally as an exciting first-rate place to study politics.

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