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Work mentor mainly likes to discuss my weight! WWYD?

(22 Posts)
silversliver Tue 30-Aug-16 13:26:05

So I meet with my mentor at work from time to time. The intention is that he provides career guidance, advice, etc. Which he does, sometimes, and sometimes it's marginally helpful. But during our meetings, what he mostly wants to talk about is how much I eat (he thinks I don't eat enough hence am too thin). And how old are my kids, etc, etc.

Now of course, it's fine to chat with colleagues about non-work stuff, including kids, and that's fine. But my suspicion about this man is that he doesn't really think I am very serious about my career, mainly BECAUSE I have kids. This matters, because he does have some influence over my career.

It is true that my career is in the doldrums, and that doe relate, at least partly, to the fact that I can't and won't work the very long hours that many of my peers do (I'm an academic). But on the other hand I don't want to be entirely written off. This is slightly complicated by the fact that I'm pregnant and god only knows what he's going to want to talk about when I tell him that.

So do I just humour him, and find another informal mentor? Do I tell him that it's inappropriate to talk about my weight, which he would probably take as a sense of humour failure on my part? Do I ask for a new formal mentor? That would be awkward, as he's well liked within the department as far as I know, and surely I'd have to explain why? WWYD?

Thefitfatty Tue 30-Aug-16 13:30:16

Honestly? I'd probably put up with it. Especially if he's well liked. However, I'd probably start building relationships with the rest of your colleagues and if an opportunity arises to swap to a new mentor, take it.

silversliver Tue 30-Aug-16 13:31:25

Hmm. Think you're right thefitfatty. Apologies for all those typos in my post by the way!

KeyserSophie Tue 30-Aug-16 13:41:09

It may be that he's just not a good mentor for you in that he can't relate to your situation. I don't have a mentor as such, but my boss is brilliant in that she gives me a good perspective on what I should be doing to maintain/ increase my profile despite working PT at present. Pairing up mentors and mentees appropriately is quite a skill.

At the same time, when you meet, why is he setting the agenda/topics? To make the most of it, you should be raising issues/ seeking perspective on specifics. If you're just expecting him to set the agenda then that's probably why he's thinking you're not that interested in your career.

DiegeticMuch Tue 30-Aug-16 15:51:49

Perhaps he's innocently trying to develop a rapport (but making a pig's ear of it).

Or perhaps he thinks that you aren't a serious sort of person on the basis of your hours and your functioning womb.

I think you need to figure out which it is. The former is mildly irritating but liveable-with. The latter could hinder you.

Congrats on the pregnancy!

Boogers Tue 30-Aug-16 16:04:58

No, don't just suck it up! He might be well liked etc, etc, but he's mentoring you for a reason and he's using the valuable time you have with him to discuss things you're not entirely comfortable discussing with him. On top of which talking to a work colleague about their weight in a conversation that wasn't initiated by them is downright rude and unprofessional! Next time he goes off topic just remind him of the reasons you're being mentored by him to steer him back to the subject, and if he continues just look him straight in the eye and say you don't want to talk to him about that.

UnGoogleable Tue 30-Aug-16 16:15:01

The world of academia can be hugely misogynistic - particularly among older male academics.

I fell foul of an older male mentor, who judged me and my career prospects harshly. I was young, had no self confidence and just let him trample all over me. It affected my confidence in my career for years and to be honest I'm still nervous about seeing him many, many years later.

SO, what I would advise you to do is try to turn this around in your favour. Set the agenda, and if he goes off topic, bring it back. Push him to get what you need out of the meetings. Give him feedback on his mentoring "It was really useful when we discussed X, I put it to use by doing Y".

I hate to say you'll have to do the hard work to 'impress' this man, because why should you jump through hoops when a young man in a similar position might not. But that's the world of academia.

If he's not that influential or if there are other options out there, then ask to change him for someone more useful to you.

Kalispera Tue 30-Aug-16 16:24:03

I'd email him before each meeting with a list of topics you want to cover. Then you've got something refer back to when he starts rambling. "Oh really, do you think so, but to stick to topic..."

If that doesn't work find a mentor who will actually mentor you and do you some good; that's what they are for, after all. You don't want to waste time humouring someone if they're not doing what works for you. Plus he's clearly a misogynistic twat.

90daychallenger Tue 30-Aug-16 16:31:40

I'm an academic as well and I've found the mentoring system to be a blessing and a curse.

Ungoogleable is absolutely right to set an agenda for your meetings. Let him know in advance what you want to talk about and keep the conversation on that track. You can do this in a really friendly way if you'e worried about alienating him.

If he mentions your weight, it's absolutely fine to say that you don't think it's appropriate. Again, you can be friendly when you do this. I don't think you should have to be but if you want to be then you can. Having an 'agenda' or at least topic to stick to will help you here.

Is there a possibility for you to change mentor? I found changing from a male to a female mentor hugely beneficial as I felt more relaxed to be able to tell her that I felt like I was crap at my job. It might also be easier to discuss juggling academia and parenthood with a woman?

BTW, you saying that you're not willing to work the long hours often demanded of academics is inspirational. I think more of us should be willing to stand up and say that publicly.

SandyY2K Wed 31-Aug-16 00:11:48

He's out of Oder and I suggest you get another mentor. Your weight is not a topic for discussion with him.

SandyY2K Wed 31-Aug-16 00:12:07


silversliver Thu 01-Sep-16 10:10:09

Thanks again everybody for your thoughts. 90day, thanks for saying that I am inspirational! I don't feel inspirational at all!! My career really is showing no signs of progression after an embarrassing amount of time, and I deal constantly with feelings of deep inadequacy around my crappy publication record. I do loads of impact stuff and public engagement (and I'm also in the press quite a lot), so have a quite strong reputation (not necessarily a good one wink) in the practitioner world, but feel like a total imposter on the other hand as an academic! Oh well. Perseverance is key as I tell the kids.

90daychallenger Thu 01-Sep-16 10:59:08

silversliver I do, honestly, find great joy when academics publicly say they're not willing to work the long hours. Me and one of my colleagues are exactly like this but we usually whisper it in corners for fear of being perceived as unambitious and not dedicated. Ridiculous.

Wow, I'm very impressed that you're often in the press and do lots of public engagement. Impact and PE are only going to grow in importance in the next REF and I think people with very impressive publication records but limited impact work are actually very very panicked about it.

Remember that you only need 4 publications for REF 2020 and not every member of staff has to be submitted. However if you won't have four publications, if you're big into impact and PE work, you'll be valuable from that REF perspective rather than publications. There are very few people who cover all bases.

silversliver Thu 01-Sep-16 11:11:20

Thanks again 90day, lovely to hear from your perspective (the funny thing is I bet we DO work quite long hours, just not compared to some other academics)! I agree, the impact thing does seem to be growing in importance, and I genuinely like to feel that I am engaging in a wider conversation, even though the press attention often feels terrifying. Nothing like the below the line comments to enhance that imposter syndrome. I do have a couple of publications already for this REF period so hopefully will make at least another two - though Stern now seems to suggest up to six? Aaaargh.

SnotGoblin Thu 01-Sep-16 11:17:43

In the short term you can email him a list of topics to cover in your next mentoring sesssiion. An agenda that you can have bullet pointed in front of you when you're together so that if he does stray into weight/children chatter, you can nudge him back with 'conscious that we're running out of time and I'd like to get your take on how I should....' etc.

SnotGoblin Thu 01-Sep-16 11:19:16

Set the agenda, and if he goes off topic, bring it back. Push him to get what you need out of the meetings.

One hundred percent, this.

90daychallenger Thu 01-Sep-16 11:28:41

I do also think that a lot of the talk around long working hours is academic bollock swinging - 'look how much longer I work than you' becomes a proxy for 'look how much more successful I must be than you'.

I often doubt they do actually work the hours they say or how productive they are during those hours.

It pisses me off that men who are supported by their wife who takes on full responsibility for childcare don't seem to recognise their privilege in being able to work such long hours if they want to. There are some exceptions but most attribute success to hard work alone, not recognising that having someone fetch and carry their children and cook their tea every night helps.

UnGoogleable Thu 01-Sep-16 11:33:45

conscious that we're running out of time and I'd like to get your take on how I should.... that's a perfect way to approach it. It means you get to look conscientious and goal driven (if you still care what he thinks about you), you genuinely drive the conversation to get what you need out of it, AND you get to avoid his misogynistic bollocks.

TikTakTok Thu 01-Sep-16 11:34:58

Is there a reason you can't just tell him that you don't want to talk about your weight and your family set up. confused. You don't have to be rude about it. I don't think you need to steer the conversation or 'bring back the conversation' you just need to tell him.

'Do you mind if we don't chat about my weight or my family set up, thanks'

silversliver Thu 01-Sep-16 12:28:29

Agreed 90day. My issue is not just the physical time but also the headspace. I often tell my DH that I am having to manage the emotional lives of four people, while he only has to manage his!

Tiktaktok - Honestly? Because I'm a pathetic people pleaser who hates confrontation, or at least, is very bad at putting my point across without sounding confrontational or perhaps rude. I get stupidly emotional when I want to sound calm and rational. I'm not proud of it, but there it is.

Lorelei76 Thu 01-Sep-16 12:33:03

who cares if he's well liked?

do you have to have a mentor at your work? I would just drop it and say you have a professional mentor outside work. But tbh the fact that he raises this stuff is a huge red flag for me about the work place in general.

then again, I avoid the sorts of companies who get into deeply personal territory anyway, I don't really understand how it happens.

TikTakTok Thu 01-Sep-16 12:46:04

Silver I think you should try the direct approach. It makes life so much easier and you really, really don't need to be rude. You could even phrase it that you are asking him a favour.
It might be a little embarrassing or awkward but the key is to realize that it doesn't matter.
I blush and I can stumble on my words but because I don't mind that I do it it's ok.
If it helps you can switch it around and tell yourself that it's actually unfair of you to be annoyed with him but not say anything. It still means you have to have the awkward chat but it might give you the push to do it.

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