Mentorship

As I write this post, the International Studies Association just wrapped up its annual conference.  I usually attend, but I could not do so because of my commitments as a Fulbright-Schuman Scholar.  This year I had the honor and pleasure of serving as Chair of the International Political Economy  (IPE) section award for Mentorship.  The Society for Women in International Political Economy (SWIPE) Mentor Award goes to an individual who has “who have invested in the professional success of women in the IPE field”.  I had a great committee with enthusiastic members, and I got to virtually (through email) meet some really interesting people – which is the point of this academic thing, eh?

The committee was important to me because my career, and my life, have been influenced by a few individuals who have helped me along because they believed in me.  Earning a PhD is daunting for a number of reasons, and the profession is not easy or glamorous. You need to be a strong person on your own, and you need a good sherpa.

Patricia Weitsman, one of my strongest sherpas, changed my life.   In her first semester at Ohio University Patty pulled me aside, a history MA student, and said “you should be doing International Relations Theory.”  I was the only person to get an A in her class, and it was the first IR theory course I’d ever taken.  She got me funded in the department.  When I insisted on completing my history MA alongside the political science MA, she cut through red tape like a Highland warrior wielding a clamor (an analogy of which she cheerfully approved).  From there I went to Texas A&M and met others who became mentors and friends like Bill Brands.  Patty continued to be there – writing letters, a visiting position at OU, my first tenure-track job, and too many pieces of advice to count regarding publishing, writing, and life.  I was her first graduate student to finish the PhD and she was fiercely protective, and proud, of me.

Over those years, the relationship shifted from one of teacher-student to colleagues.  I was happy to be there for her too and offer perspectives when she needed it.   And, in a sign of how close that friendship had become – we could also argue and challenge each other.  There was that kind of honesty.

Mentors do more than show you how to get through the system or cultivate your abilities, they show you that success, failure, and perseverance is about character.  Mentors give you the tools to overcome obstacles (either made in your own head or roadblocks put there by others) and find that courage to make things happen.  Patty led by example.  My teaching was influenced by her, a woman who had such a rocky start her first year in the classroom that she worked to become a two-time winner of OU’s presidential teaching award.   Anything she did she had to “own” she told me once.  She worked out 6 times a week and taught kickboxing.  When she was diagnosed with leukemia and was in for her bone marrow transplant she had a treadmill in the hospital ward.  During her two year remission she wrote a book on war and alliances, chaired the largest section of ISA, the International Security Studies group, was the director of the War and Peace Studies Institute at OU, campaigned for bone marrow donation, and raised two kids with her loving husband.  All of this she did with tenacity, strength, and love.

Patty’s battle with leukemia ended today.  We began and closed every conversation we had in the past few years with “I love you.”

I had been working on this blog post about mentorship for over a week but now it’s something more.  In these early hours of learning this news, I have been trying to come to grips with what has happened.   A friend of mine said there is “no point to get out of it all.  Someone dies and they are un-replacable.”  There’s nothing to understand.  And she cannot be replaced, no.  Because I cannot get her back to feel better, the only thing I can do is to maintain Patty in my life with what she has always given me – love.

“Sending love. xoxo”