Virtual coffee with: Professor Emerita Martha Montero-Sieburth

Professor Emerita Martha Montero-Sieburth shares her view on mentoring in Academia
15 April 2020

“IMISCOE PhD Network” will be a section reserved indeed to the PhD network. Here they will periodically provide the Bulletin with all kinds of contributions.

Their first input is an interview titled “Virtual coffee with: Professor Emerita Martha Montero-Sieburth”. In this series scholars and practitioners share their experiences, advice, and teachings with PhD students in Migration Studies. These intergenerational conversations emerge from the belief that the transmission of knowledge and the collaborative (re)imagining of concepts, research tools, and academic practices are essential in the development and advancement of PhD candidates in migration research.  


Professor Martha Montero-Sieburth

Our first guest is Dr. Martha Montero-Sieburth, former Associate Professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and Professor Emerita, University of Massachusetts-Boston. As a comparative educational anthropologist, she has conducted extensive studies of U.S. Latino high-school youth and travelled often to Latin America to study indigenous and urban groups in Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras.

After a 2006 Fulbright grant during which she analysed the socio-cultural adaptation of Latin Americans in the Canary Islands, she became a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Migration and Ethnic Studies at the University of Amsterdam, where her research focused on the educational and integration processes of second generation immigrants, families and their communities across Europe. For the last 10 years she has been teaching at Amsterdam University College where her research has focused on the schooling of second-generation Dutch Turkish, Dutch Moroccan and Mexican families and youth.

An active supporter of the IMISCOE PhD Network and closely involved in the trajectories of her migration students, particularly with research criteria and ethics, Dr. Montero-Sieburth is interviewed today on the role of mentoring in the academic trajectories of PhD students by Domiziana Turcatti, her mentee and active member of the IMISCOE PhD network

Can you tell us about your involvement with the IMISCOE PhD group?

When I came to Europe, after hearing Rinus Penninx lecture on integration in a UVA course and knowing his role as a founding member of IMISCOE, I was intrigued and attended IMISCOE conferences. While I enjoyed the opportunity to participate in the presentation of student papers, I was astounded by the limited feedback leading to publication that the young scholars received.   

As one of the coordinators of IMISCOE’s Standing Committee on Migrant Families, Children and Youth, I mentored PhD candidate Carmen Draghici, who with her colleagues expanded the idea I suggested that students submit their proposals for review and receive feedback from senior IMISCOE scholars. This gained much support and funding, resulting in the establishment of a formal mentoring program – the IMISCOE PhD Network.

I am pleased with the growth of the IMISCOE PhD Network and enjoy participating in its intergenerational feedback sessions by providing input, doing mentoring presentations and guiding students in their writings. To further the exchange of ideas and benefit from two-way feedback, I suggested that they initiate a “Coffee with the Professor” session based on a successful program I helped initiate at the American Educational Research Association (AERA). Here the mentee and mentor delve into dissertation issues “one-on-one”. This virtual interview is the first instalment!

I believe there is a need to create a pipeline at IMISCOE that helps students progress from the undergraduate, to graduate and post-graduate studies, to develop stronger English writing skills, and to raise the consciousness of migration scholars about their commitment to the field, since the doctoral process is a very lonely experience where much support is needed.  

Many of the activities you proposed to the IMISCOE PhD Network revolve around the theme of mentoring You also have been a mentor to many of us. What is mentoring for you?

Mentoring is a two-way process of engaging with like-minded people who have similar interests to yours and who are willing to grow with you. At the same time, you must be willing to grow with them. This means that I don’t place myself above my students, I don’t believe that I have something that I only have, and they don’t have. On the contrary, I groom my students to see their own abilities.

I have had many students who say: ‘I will never finish; I will never get this done’. Crises, tears... As a mentor, my modus operandi has been to tell them ‘yes, you will’, even if it takes a lot of emails going back and forth since this kind of persistence really helps students break out of the fear of failure.

Given your definition of mentorship, who can be defined a mentor? Is the supervisor a mentor?  

Not all supervisors are mentors and not all mentors are supervisors. A supervisor directs the process that leads to a published dissertation. A mentor forms a relationship with a student built on trust and geared towards mutual academic, intellectual, and personal growth to complete the process.  This may include picking up the phone when the student is in distress and making the time for that person. Mentoring is based on the premise that two people want to and can learn from each other.

What about mentees? What do you look for in your mentees?  

A mentee is someone who is willing to take criticism in a positive way because mutual feedback is a constructive process. A mentee is also someone who is seriously engaged with their work and willing to put in the time to meet their goal. Many students do not realise that the doctorate is not a simple process, but a rite of passage.

Mentees must be willing to engage in a relationship of give-and-take. Rather than squeezing everything out of the mentor without being willing to reciprocate or exchange ideas, a mentee must carefully build a relationship based on mutual trust, respect and teamwork. This means that ideas originating from the mentor must be acknowledged in writings and publications and if ideas have been formed by both mentor and mentee, a joint publication may recognise the efforts of both.

Finally, I look for resilience. I have encountered mentees with a lot of motivation and energy who sadly gave up on their learning the moment there was a distressing event in their academic or personal lives. Resilience is the ability to overcome obstacles inherent both in daily life and especially in an academic career.

What advice would you give to students who are looking for mentors? What should students pay attention to when looking for mentoring?

Knowing that mentoring means time, engagement, and growth, students should look for professors, supervisors, and lecturers who are willing to provide them with feedback, to engage in conversations and where the rapport is a healthy and positive. Students should seek people who respond to their ideas, are willing to explore them together, help them edify their thinking, guide them to upcoming conferences, provide feedback, and share books and publications.   

The best mentors are often outside of your department. Why? Because within your department, there may already be an inner clique that has little room for other points of view. Someone on the outside can often be more objective or at least present alternative perspectives.   

It takes a lot of time to find a good mentor, who is really committed to you, respects you, has you in mind, and is humble.

What advice would you give to those who would like to become mentors?

Becoming a mentor is not that easy and requires distancing from a culture where senior scholars in many universities and departments compete for the best students. Students become commodified in the process and many lose out on learning opportunities. I have never played that game and have always told my students, regardless of their grades: ‘if you want me as your mentor, set up time with me, seek me out, and let’s find what we have in common’.

I also think that becoming a mentor means you are less concerned with what you can gain from mentoring than seeing your mentees grow and become talented researchers. One of the things I have enjoyed the most about mentoring you and some students at Amsterdam University College is that over the years I have seen you evolve. I have provoked you to grow, to go with conferences with me, to present papers. These are challenges not just for mentees, but also for mentors who need to protect their students along the way. A mentor who is willing to take on these challenges and keeps growing with you as you go through the process of becoming your own person in the doctoral journey is what I think makes for a good mentor and what has given me great personal satisfaction.

Do you have a final message for IMISCOE and the IMISCOE PhD Network?  

If IMISCOE truly wants to move forward, establishing more spaces where meaningful intergenerational conversations can emerge becomes crucial. It is through these conversations that students can learn to navigate academia and their research. Through these conversation new and old concepts can be revised, revisited, reimagined.

To PhD students, I say: do not forget your mentors. I see many young people who publish and continue their academic journey but forget to acknowledge their mentors. We have a responsibility towards each other and one of these is to acknowledge the seniors who helped you grow. I must say that there is nothing more beautiful than hearing students who go out in the world and succeed saying: ‘This is what my mentor taught me’.  


Interviewed by: 

Domiziana Turcatti
PhD Candidate in Migration Studies
COMPAS, University of Oxford


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