His Open Door Policy Opens Doors
David Leblang Receives Mentoring Awards
David Leblang keeps his door open—and all kinds of opportunities wander in. For him the most pleasant are the ones where he ends up as a mentor. He has developed a reputation as a professor who freely shares advice, opens his network to others, and collaborates just because it’s fun.
The rest of the world agrees, David just received the Society for Women in International Political Economy (SWIPE) 2016 Mentor Award at ISA’s 57th Convention in Atlanta, Georgia.
David received the award as a result of letter nominations by individual supporters. Nominations noted his efforts in advancing the careers of women in political science, providing feedback and reviews on the work of junior scholars, and essential direction through the knot of academia. He also mentors outside the walls of his home institution, a gesture he learned from his own mentor, John Freeman. Leblang’s graciousness, gentle sense of humor, and vigilance in providing a just educational environment are all factors in his success as a mentor.
Despite David’s incredulity at winning the award, the SWIPE committee’s rationale for for choosing him is made clear by the comments from the nominators: he counters the social networks that impede the career development of women, he establishes long-term mentoring relationships, and supports women with whom he has no institutional ties. He states that his behavior has “everything to do with mentoring, but nothing to do with gender,” —but acknowledges the explicit bias in political science in academia, the different norms and expectations for female faculty and graduate students. And further that prejudices also exist in race, gender, and pedigree.
“…David consciously and systematically counters the gendered nature of academic social networks that undermine women’s career advancement.”
As part of the ceremony, a roundtable was held in his honor. Participants included two of his mentors, Steve Chan (University of Colorado) and John Freeman, (University of Minnesota).
Preparation—a key skill learned from Dr. Chan. He observed Chan walking the halls and meeting with people, hearing their concerns, developing solutions, and providing a vision. David recounts “Steve never called a department meeting where he did not know the outcome beforehand,” a great lesson in leadership. Chan also shared the importance of family and work-life balance, institutional support and protection for faculty, the value of giving and sharing time to collegues.
Early in David’s career Dr. Freeman provided with strong scholarly mentoring as well. As a grad student at Vanderbilt working on a paper about capital controls in developing countries, David requested a working paper from Dr. Freeman with which he fundamentally disagreed. He wished to quote the working paper. Freeman agreed and requested David’s paper in return. “Sometime later I received this—seven pages of single spaced, numbered criticisms of my paper. John took issue with analytics and the empirics, with the theory and the presentation of results. He methodically, carefully, pulled the paper apart bit by bit. You can imagine the horror, the embarrassment I felt as I read his comments as I was in the first year of a tenure track job.”
In a PS at the end of the paper he requested that David send him clean copy of the paper. He wanted to use the paper in his graduate class. As David recounted this postscript at the SWIPE award, he called them the most powerful twenty-eight words he had ever read.
“And they remain the most powerful. Here was someone I’d never met. Who did not know me. Did not know my advisors, had never been to Vanderbilt or North Texas. He had zero connection to me. Yet he invested the time to read my work, to provide criticism but then to signal in the clearest way possible that he found value in my work.”
A History of this Behavior
As evidence of his commitment to mentoring and leading by example, David also won the Outstanding Mentoring Award from the University of Virginia Provost’s office in 2015. In contrast to his surprise at winning the SWIPE award, David facetiously indicates ‘damn right,’ he is deserving of this award, that within the walls of the University he works his butt off to help his colleagues and students.
The Provost’s office award receives input from colleagues, mentees, and students.
What his nominator says: “A critical aspect of faculty mentorship is leading by example. And this is perhaps where David’s record is most remarkable. He has been a tireless leader of our department and an astoundingly prolific researcher (both at the same time).”
What his colleague says: “His mentorship was not confined to formal annual meetings, but took place every day, as he left his door open and invited junior colleagues to stop by or knocked on their doors to discuss various issues.”
What his mentee and colleague says: “He always acts as if he has all the time in the world to listen to your problems and help you solve them. He remembers details. He reminds you, by example, of why being a professor is fun. He is straightforward about what he thinks. … he is extremely creative and resourceful in finding answers to problems.”
It’s key to remember that this effort doesn’t come for free. David has integrated this process into his work, both as a chair and a scholar; his modesty aside, it is additional work—it requires holding these tactics in mind, remembering to act upon them, and not view mentoring as a burden. He says he wouldn’t do it if there wasn’t something in it for him, and apparently there is.
Leblang is Professor and Chair of the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics and Faculty, Associate and J. Wilson Newman Professor of Governance at the Miller Center.
Visit David’s site page for more information, publications, and data.