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  • Good Mentoring: Fostering Excellent Practice in Higher Education
  • Chris M. Golde
Good Mentoring: Fostering Excellent Practice in Higher Education, by Jeanne Nakamura and David J. Shernoff. Jossey-Bass, 2009. 336 pp. $40.00 (cloth). ISBN 978-0-470-18963-4

Most research on doctoral education focuses on the processes and the conditions that help or hinder student success. In general, success is defined as degree completion (as distinct from attrition) in a timely manner (reasonable versus extended time to degree). Important books include Bowen and Rudenstine (1992), Lovitts (2001), Nettles and Millett (2006), and Ehrenburg et al. (2009). In addition to a great deal of descriptive data, some of the important findings from these projects include identifying the prevalence of mismatches between program structure and desired outcomes, the impact of various funding strategies, and the importance of making expectations clear and visible.

Good Mentoring starts to move research in doctoral education in an exciting and welcome new direction: what do students learn and how they learn it. This book examines students' professional identity development. It focuses directly on the advisor-student relationship (mentoring) as the means to this end. Consequently, this book stands to be a seminal and paradigm-shifting contribution to graduate education literature.

The research described grew out of the GoodWork project on the professions. The GoodWork project tries to foster work that is "good" in two senses, both high quality and ethical. The authors of this book, Jeanne Nakamura and David [End Page 782] J. Shernoff, turn their attention to the world of university-based science in order to learn how good work is taught. The academic arena is not immune from the drive for professional success and the competition for resources that may tempt scientists to cut corners.

Apprenticeship—defined as "experiential learning that takes place in a community of practice where experts conduct the authentic work of the profession" (p. 15)—is the predominant, or signature, pedagogy of doctoral education. The authors seek to understand how mentoring relationships, the one-on-one relationships between a senior adviser and a novice student, teach good scientific practice.

Their study is very cleverly crafted. Nakamura and Shernoff selected one discipline (genetics) and identified three senior scientists who had made major scientific contributions, had a reputation for responsible practice, and had directly mentored many students. Not only did they interview Joseph Gall, Arno Motulsky, and Richard Lewontin, but they also interviewed several of their former students who are now established scientists, and then interviewed those students' students. The interviewees were purposively sampled to identify "good workers" who have benefited from authentic apprenticeship relationships and who had also trained a number of students. This methodology allowed the authors to develop a picture of three distinct scientific lineages.

The aim of the study was to see whether and how traits of good work were passed from down one generation to the next. Taking a genetics metaphor, and using the vocabulary of cultural evolution, they studied the transmission of "memes." They use the term "meme" for the values, practices, and beliefs that characterize an approach to professional work. Just as genetic traits, like blue eyes, pass from parent to child, the authors hypothesized that some memes would pass from adviser to student, from one scientific generation to the next. Because of the interest in good work, the authors were particularly looking for those memes related to high-quality scientific practice, ethics, and integrity.

The book begins with three case studies, one of each lineage. These are inherently interesting to read and offer inspiring examples of academic science and mentoring. They are also examples of well-written analytic qualitative case studies and thus offer excellent models for higher education doctoral students. They found that some memes are strong and pass from one generation to the next. For example, Richard Lewontin and half of his offspring eschew the field's standard practice of sharing credit in the authorship list for their students' published work. The authors also learned that some memes are only weakly inherited (passing to a small number of offspring); memes can and do die out; and some memes are modified by a new generation.

Part two of the book...


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