Lifting (Up) Together: Recap on Inclusive Mentoring webinar

As part of an ongoing series, the National Science Policy Network’s (NSPN) Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee bring panelists to discuss practices, policies, and initiatives that overcome barriers of inequity in science and policy spaces. June’s focus was on inclusive mentoring practices, how we can elevate effective practices and resources, and share the importance of mentoring. The panel featured Drs. Cheri Rossi (University of Wisconsin- Madison), Tabbetha Dobbins (Rowan University), and Jamboor Vishwantha (National Research Mentoring Network).

Any resources listed are not expressly endorsed by NSPN and are for informational use.

Who is in the room

Each panelist had their own experiences in working in the mentoring space from an academic department to studying how mentoring affects graduation rates to spearheading national efforts for better mentoring practices. Dr. Rossi talked about the programs they integrated at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Chemistry department that integrates mentoring at all levels, from undergraduate to graduate to postdoc to faculty and staff. Not only did the workshop focus on effective mentoring tools, but in Entering Research, a program for undergraduates going into research also discussed ways to be a productive mentee. Currently, Dr. Rossi spearheads efforts in cultivating peer mentoring relationships among other professional skills through Catalyst, which prepares first-year graduate students for success.

Dr. Dobbins discussed her experience on the American Institute of Physics task force TEAM UP. They examined why college graduation rates for African-Americans in Physics were stagnant compared to other racial and ethnic groups. Summarily, what TEAM UP was able to report were

  • Students, including those from underserved backgrounds, should be considered a strength as approaches that were student-centered were successful;

  • Interventions should borrow and work with social sciences methodology and frameworks as these solutions can be more holistic with several different perspectives;

  • Support and sustainability are key institutional pillars for effective programs that include mentoring to increase a student’s connection, sense of belonging, and scientist identity.

The full report from TEAM UP can be found here for further reading.

The National Research Mentoring Network (NRMN) is spearheaded by Dr. Vishwanta, He describes the six-year history of the National Institutes of Health-backed initiative that now has over 14,000 mentors and mentees in the U.S. biomedical and behavioral research workforce participating in the program. NIH saw a gap in their grant awardees, broken down by race when controlling for all other variables. Further reports showcased that mentoring was the number one component that was a major factor in the successes for researchers. Thus, NRMN was created and it has grown since then.

How we can push the needle

In three smaller sessions, attendees were able to discuss with and ask a panelist about ways folks can advocate for more thoughtful, inclusive mentoring practices. Groups identified the importance of incentives, funding, and self-education to make inclusive mentoring a reality.

First, it is essential that institutions provide professors and staff with specific motivation to make inclusive mentoring a sustainable practice. Professionals must prioritize mentoring, especially for underrepresented students and trainees, but there are currently few mechanisms in place to ensure that they do so. Institutions must first understand and concretely define what effective mentoring is. Many institutions do not have a definition in place to even begin to measure and recognize what effective mentorship is. Only then can institutions provide training and incentives such as metrics, evaluation, and recognition for mentoring practices. Mentoring evaluations can be completed in a similar manner to teaching evaluations and should be considered in the tenure and promotion processes.

A second key issue is the necessity of money in making mentoring practices effective. Funding for mentorship should be considered an essential part of grants and startup packages. In order for this to occur, funding agencies and universities must enact policies to support mentorship directly. These policies might include specific funding for mentorship as part of grants, criteria for mentorship milestones in grants reviews and renewals, and letters of support from mentees to provide testimonials during the grant application process.

Finally, organizations, alongside mentors, must educate themselves about pedagogy and mentorship using evidence from the research literature. Many studies have looked into the most effective practices that help trainees, but the findings from these studies are not always utilized to their full potential. Stakeholders must look beyond their own field to read the literature in sociology and psychology and learn how science can be done equitably and inclusively. There are many organizations that are already doing the studies and work on mentoring, so tapping into those networks will lessen the burden of wading through the literature.

Final thoughts

Mentoring matters. All three panelists weaved this simple message throughout their presentations. It is also plainly seen that mentoring is a key concern for many of the attendees. How you clearly define it and communicate that in the mentor-mentee relationship to outline goals and expectations are critical.

View the recording of Lifting (Up) Together on YouTube. Our speakers also had many studies regarding mentoring, being a mentee, and the stresses of underrepresented folks carrying the work which all can be viewed here.

What mentoring resources and policies have you found helpful? How can institutional policies and new funding opportunities promote inclusive mentoring? Comment below,  let us know on Twitter @SciPolNetwork and use the hashtag #Diversitea.

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