The Value of Mentoring: Young Scholars in IT and the Humanities

Edward Vanhoutte

An active and welcoming research community is essential to build the next generation of researchers: it can help young scholars to enhance their knowledge, to develop their skills, build their CV's, prepare the for the (academic) job market, and to create their own opportunities. And yet many young scholars are working behind splendid walls of isolation in research units, departments, and universities. This was the conclusion Melissa Terras and I came to when we issued a call for submissions for an upcoming thematic issue of Literary and Linguistic Computing on young scholars in IT and the Humanities. We received over 35 abstracts from 40 young scholars throughout the world, and the standard was very high. Hardly any of them had been spotted on international Humanities Computing gatherings such as the British Digital Resources for the Humanities (DRH) or the ACH/ALLC joint conferences. This was probably not because they do not want to participate, but because it is difficult for young people to get funding for attending conferences, especially when they are held abroad. These conferences are nevertheless the ultimate places to see the community at work, to get to know people and discover that they're struggling with the same problems one has encountered in one's own research, or just to hang around and get inspired by the friendly collaborative atmosphere. That's why it is so important to create facilitating opportunities for young people – such as the yearly ALLC bursary award scheme – to attend these events in an integrative way and present their research to the community.

At the age of 24, I started attending international conferences on Humanities Computing, often as the youngest delegate around. When in 1998, I presented my very first paper for an international audience on DRH in Glasgow (UK), I was surprised to not only find the 'politeness listeners' in the audience, but also senior scholars, major specialists in their field, whom I only knew from reading their articles and books. The immediate contact with these scholars, their useful comments on my presentation, and their warm invitation to mail them, anytime, helped me to discover the importance of the professional community for my own research. And they indeed mailed me back, sometimes within a couple of hours, providing me with answers on my newbie questions, suggestions for further reading, or advice on matters of project management. The community, the sum total of many individual scholars, encouraged me to post questions on the HUMANIST or TEI lists, enter into useful debates, publish, reflect on my own research, and learn lessons from this. In short, the international Humanities Computing community provided me with many opportunities to build my own curriculum, which until now could not be studied in the country in which I live and work.

To replicate this experience of collegial assistance, for the special LLC issue on young scholars mentioned above Melissa and I developed a mentoring system which teams up each young scholar with a senior colleague in their field, preferably coming from another country. The task of these mentors is to discuss draft versions of the young scholars' papers, point out flaws in their arguments, and above all, introduce them to the community. This way, we hope to provide a valuable service to both the young and the experienced scholars, whose research might benefit from the fresh, unbiassed insights and approaches their junior colleagues undoubtedly have.

© Edward Vanhoutte, 15 January 2003.
This text was published as Edward Vanhoutte, 'The Value of Mentoring: Young Scholars in IT and the Humanities.' in: Computers and the Humanities, 37/2 (May 2003), p. 149-150.

XHTML auteur: Edward Vanhoutte
Last revision: 19/11/2003

Valid XHTML 1.0!