The Duck of Minerva

The power of mentorship: a reflection

25 October 2013

In the Monkey Cage’s recent symposium on gender and political science,  David Lake writes how important it is that our scholarly networks become less gendered, how male scholars must make an effort to mentor women in the field.  In my view, the importance of mentorship cannot be understated.  Without the support of several scholars in security studies, not all but many of them men, I may have indeed decided that this field was not for someone like me.

In my first year of graduate school, I was beginning to see myself as more of an “IR theory” than a “security studies” student (yes, whatever that means).  But in May of 1997, our department administrator called me into her office to talk teaching assistant assignments.  “We’d like you to be a T.A. for Warner Schilling’s class,” she said.  I was thrilled, but terrified.  The course was “Weapons, Strategy, and War,” and if there was one thing I was absolutely certain about, it was that I did not know enough about weapons, or strategy, or war to be teaching anyone anything about those topics.  And, having taken this course with Schilling, I knew that this was not for the faint of heart.  I would have to guide undergraduates through the basics of shot and pike, of column and line, of counterforce and McNamara curves.  I very simply was not qualified.

But I was also not brave enough to tell Schilling about my ineptitude.  So I was his teaching assistant in 1998 (he only had one TA, though the course had 75-90 students a semester), and I continued to work with him throughout my years at Columbia.  At times I tried to explain to Schilling that I was not qualified to teach this material. “Nonsense!” he would reply.  So I kept going, trying to overcome this massive learning curve and become the teacher and scholar of security studies that he, clearly deluded, thought I could be.

So a mentorship—no, a friendship—was born, and it was integral to me becoming a scholar in the field of security studies. It was with Schilling’s support, for example, that I wrote my first published piece, a short critique of the offense-defense balance.  He patiently read my discussion of technology and the Somme, and I was thrilled when it met his (ridiculously high) standards.  When I arrived at Wellesley in 2005, he encouraged me to take “Weapons, Strategy, and War,” and make it a class of my own.   By teaching this course at a women’s college, I have always hoped that I can continue Schilling’s good work, and bring more women into a field that can often seem out of reach.

This is especially important to me now, as Warner passed away last Sunday night.  I was lucky to have him as my teacher and dear friend for seventeen years. I owe a great debt of gratitude to him, and all of those scholars who have been generous enough to guide us in the field.  Thank you Warner.  You will be missed.