Two scholar-activists offering academic mentoring to each other, writing together in a park, sunlight dappling over their smiling faces, pen in hand and deep in conversation

Why Academic Mentoring Costs Money

Since releasing my year-long mentoring program, Wayfinders, one question that people have broached with me — usually with a little embarrassment and trepidation — is why I am charging for academic mentorship.

In this post, I’ll share some of the reflections this question has elicited about my own assumptions and expectations as an academic and why I don’t think academic mentoring is ever truly ‘free’.

For those who would like to work with me but do not have the financial means, I’ll also outline the ways you can access my work for free and offer some guidance around how working academics may seek financial support from your institution to join Wayfinders.

Graphic featuring pink roses with thorny stems and white block letters saying, "this is why mentorship costs money", interwoven with the flower
Graphic based on the botanical paintings of Pierre-Joseph Redouté

Mentoring is Rarely Ever ‘Free’

I concede that before I hired my first mentor, I assumed mentorship is and should be free.

Yet many of us understand that mentorship is not really ‘free’.

For one, mentorship is, in theory, underwritten by the institution. Either the mentor’s Faculty would offer them a teaching release (i.e., trade teaching hours for mentorship hours) or their mentorship would be formally recognized as an act of service at their next promotion.

Almost all academics, but especially those with marginalized identities, are no longer seeing their mentorship valued in the neoliberal university.

Marginalized academics disproportionately do more (up to four times more) service work, including mentoring junior staff and students, but this work tends to be disregarded by institutions that demand more research outputs.

As workloads intensified in the neoliberal university, publications and funding took precedence for survival.

The two times I attempted to offer unpaid academic mentorship in my career rapidly led to illness and burnout. I scarcely survived more than three mentoring sessions before I fell sick and could no longer fit the additional workload into my schedule.

Looking back, I concede my offers to mentor were based on more than a little vanity, where I longed to play the role of the sage surrounded by adoring disciples. But vanity alone was insufficient to resource or nourish.

Another way that mentorship is not really ‘free’ in academia is how the exchange for mentorship has shifted along with mounting pressures. Some mentors only offer their time and energy with the expectation (if not the contractual obligation) that their mentees name them on publications and grants.

The practice of ‘free’ mentorship is also in part grounded in academic cultures of paternalism.

It can enable powerful mentors to assemble junior scholars who become dependent on them for their livelihoods, compelled to mimic their mentors’ thinking and writing.

A former colleague used to dictate his PhD students’ projects, all of which confirmed a model he designed early in his career. He created something of a cartel, training a whole contingent of junior scholars to inflate his clout.

When his PhD students eventually graduated, few were able to secure ongoing employment because their work was unrecognizable by the wider academic community. That colleague kept them around with adjunct roles and fixed-term postdocs as long as they needed to publish 2–3 articles with him named as co-author and then left them to recreate careers outside academia.

I admit that as a PhD candidate, I romanticized paternalism. I recall feeling a pang of envy when a fellow doctoral student bragged about how he met his supervisor every day to talk philosophy.

I yearned for a senior academic to tap me on the shoulder and recognize my potential. As a PhD candidate, I hadn’t yet fully understood the workload pressures Faculty staff were under and I confess I wondered if the reason why nobody had offered to formally mentor me was that I wasn’t really cut out to be an academic and they all knew it.

The dangerous myths about academic mentoring can therefore serve to keep scholars with marginalized identities feeling as though they don’t belong in the white patriarchal academy.

I appreciate that not being able to access academic mentoring can trigger belonging wounds for many of those who have experienced marginalization in academia.

I want to affirm that if you can’t afford Wayfinders or simply don’t think it’s the right time or program for you, you are not missing out.

Our neoliberal capitalist culture perpetuates false scarcity everywhere. But I am here to say that our scholarly activist community is abundant.

If you deeply desire Wayfinders, I trust that we’ll find another opportunity to work together.

If you don’t, I trust that you’ll find another program or coach better suited to your needs.

I have cultivated immense philosophical, editorial, and writing expertise in my ten years as an intersectional feminist theorist, but I don’t have the secret sauce for easy, instant success as a scholar-activist.

I know that you’re intelligent, thoughtful, and resourceful.

I trust that with or without me, you’ll find your way.

Why I Charge for Mentoring

I charge for Wayfinders because I’m providing this mentorship outside of an academic institution.

It means I get to design a program that fully serves the collective without being constrained by work directives and performance indicators.

It means my mentorship won’t have strings attached — no expectations for naming me as co-author and no expectations to fawn, conform, or obey.

It means I can be resourced to create free teachings and tools accessible to everyone.

Black woman in a minimalist room full of house plants and art, lying on her bed with her cute dog, on her laptop, meeting with her mentor for an academic mentoring session
Photograph by Samson Katt

Free Resources

I set a fee for Wayfinders that fully resources my time and energy, and at the same time, financial accessibility is baked into my business model.

For one, I openly share my resources around knowledge, education, activism, and self-care in this blog. The content housed inside this website will always be free.

I write a monthly newsletter called Moon Rites, where I offer essays on being a scholar-activist alongside recommended readings and a tarot reading for each lunar cycle.

I also offer public education on Instagram, providing bite-sized guidance to keep you company as you navigate dominator culture.

Approximately twice a year, I deliver free workshops around doing scholarly activist work.

To be clear, this is not a hobby. My writings and workshops are all forms of labor.

Labor I choose to do without compensation so I can give to people and communities who are unable to pay me.

Labor that is only sustainable because of those who resource me.

In my inaugural cohort of Wayfinders, I offered scholarship positions for which people could apply. Unfortunately, I had some difficult experiences with people who missed out on a scholarship trolling me and my followers on social media and have needed to shelve this scheme.

I hope I may redesign this scheme and offer scholarships again in the future when I can strengthen the safety of myself and my community online.

Seeking Institutional Funding

If you’re currently employed in an ongoing academic position, do check with your institution for any development funds or grants you’re eligible to receive that may help you cover the cost of Wayfinders.

One Australian university I know to take an example offers $20,000 for early career academics within the first five years after graduation.

They also offer $15,000 in career re-establishment grants and a $50,000 fellowship for staff who have undertaken parental leave or other caring responsibilities. (Take a look around for research equity initiatives.)

I’ve also received discretionary development funds over my career simply by asking my Department chair.

In both cases, no funding was advertised, but I was granted $500 to cover the costs of producing an article and $3,000 to cover some marking relief (on top of the yearly development funds that came with my role).

To help you find the words, you’ll receive a template letter based on what I’ve used to secure a range of development funds when you sign up for my newsletter below.

I also offer flexible payment plans for anyone who would find it more easeful to have them. If you need longer than 12 months, please email me and let me know what would work best for you (the answer will probably be yes).

In many countries including my own, academic mentorship would be a tax-deductible work expense. Do speak with your accountant or check with the tax office in your country about how you may list your fee as a deductible expense.


Academic mentoring is an intensive form of care work that requires specialist skills and experience.

The neoliberal university romanticizes mentoring yet often at the same time refuses to duly recognize or compensate for it.

I have chosen to offer my mentoring outside the institution so that I can align my business model and practices with my values.

I appreciate it means Wayfinders is a significant investment, which is why I create free content for those who deeply desire the program but cannot afford the fee.

For those who can and do choose to invest in Wayfinders: thank you.

Your investment resources me to keep creating free content and offering free workshops for everybody.

Featured image by Charlotte May

Similar Posts